Bookbug for All: Sensory Sessions for Visually Impaired Children

As a Community Vision Support Officer with the Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB) in Fife, my work involves supporting children with a visual impairment and complex or additional needs.

I started working as part of a partnership delivering Bookbug Sessions to children with a visual impairment. I then attended Bookbug training, and from there I adapted the sessions I was running to make them more sensory for the children involved.

For over a year now, I have been delivering the sessions to playgroups, nurseries and after-school clubs that have children with additional needs. The sessions last for about 30 minutes and include songs that children are familiar with and also some new songs for them to learn, along with rhymes and a short story.

We include song mitts, funny hats to wear, instruments and lots of fun, sensory props

We include song mitts, funny hats to wear, instruments for the children to use, and lots of fun, sensory props. We also have touchy-feely books for sharing. The sessions keep the same format and we always start and finish with the Bookbug ' Hello' and 'Goodbye' songs. The Bookbug doll is passed around for the children to feel and is included in the actions of the songs.

The first time I delivered a session to a special needs after-school club, the children were not very interactive. But by the third session the children were completely engaged, using their instruments and trying to sing along. It was such a special session and it was so rewarding to see the children having fun and remembering some of the previous songs and rhymes.

The idea is to use a number of the same songs; keep the sessions short, interactive and engaging. 

Bear and boy jumping on a bed

One of the stories I read is If You Love a Bear (pictured, left). I have a soft bear for the children to touch and a makeshift bed for the bear to wake up in and go back to sleep at the end so the children know that the story has finished. I also use different colours of voile brushed over the bear to indicate morning (bright orange) and bedtime (dark blue).

Many children with additional needs can't follow the story, and a child with a visual impairment might not be able to see all the pictures in the book, but they can feel the soft bear and enjoy the voile fabric being brushed over their hands when the bear gets up or goes back to bed. The children enjoy taking part in the songs and although they might not be able to sing along, they can pick up the beat of the tune by playing their chosen instrument, e.g. tambourine or hand bells.

We always sing Monkeys Jumping on the Bed and get the children to take hold of our Bookbug fabric. We place our soft, furry monkeys on the fabric - each one has bells around their necks so that when they are bounced up and down you can hear them and when each one falls off the bed, a child with a visual impairment can hear the bear falling off. This is one of the favourite parts of the session and the children always want to do this again!

I am always trying to come up with new ideas for the sessions but so far they have been a great success - we are having as much fun delivering them as the children have taking part!

Linda Mitchell

Linda Mitchell is a Community Vision Support Officer working in Children's Services in Fife.