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Tactile Pictures: Ideas For Lessons

Basic Questions:

  1. Can touch inform us about the vertical?

  2. Children can draw objects, but do blind children understand the concept of a straight line? How will they draw simple geometric shapes if asked to copy them?

  3. Blind children are likely to be able to draw such things as people, animals, flowers, etc. How are they likely to draw them if asked to make drawings on the side of a mountain?

Introduction: Background Information for the Educator

According to Piaget, the sighted child can feel geometric shapes and then draw them (with ink on paper) at about ages seven or eight. Sighted children can copy simple shapes like a square or circle via the sense of sight by the age of five. The earliest spatial relationships that can be understood involve topology, namely whether one is 'near something', 'inside', or 'outside', 'etc'. Geometric shapes are usually understood by the age five, and children can coordinate topology and geometry by the age of seven or eight (e.g. the rhombus). The understanding of the vertical appears at about the same time, as does the child's ability to understand the concept of a straight line. There may be a slight developmental lag in the blind child, either because of the sensory modality, or perhaps because of a lack of much experience with drawing. The proposed drawing exercises are appropriate for older children after exposure to earliest drawing skills.

The blind child can be taught to draw common geometric shapes, and understand complex spatial arrangements. It might be fruitful to start by showing children drawings of simple shapes and name them. One could then provide multiple-choice recognition games using raised-line drawings.

Specific information for these lessons: Sighted children's demonstration and understanding of a straight line by using a method of 'sighting'. They look between two points. For the blind child, a length of string can be substituted. The child can be taught that a straight line is the shortest distance between two points by showing the child what happens when string is pulled tight.

We all learn the difference between standing upright and having one's body tilted. Children learn that walls are upright and so are trees. They are asked to draw people, trees, and animals on a slanted surface represented by a raised line.

Motivation and Content: Just as sighted children enjoy using templates to draw letters and shapes, the blind child is likely to learn a great deal from producing raised line drawings by copying, by using plastic templates, and by using drawing aids. 'Art' is frequently used as a reward for sighted children in classrooms. We should stress that drawing is fun. Blind adults enjoy drawing and it should be a pleasure for both younger and older blind children.

Drawing Geometric Shapes: Children can learn to draw geometric shapes freehand by using raised-line drawings or cardboard cutouts as models. They might then play at drawing with templates, plastic triangles, and rulers. Blind adults have requested these aids in the past.

Drawing Maps: The child might be encouraged to draw a simple map of a well-known pedestrian route. It can be fun to draw one's room or another very familiar spatial layout.

Drawing a Mountain: The child is given a raised-line drawing of a mountain (side view, inverted 'V') and asked to draw a house, people, animals, trees, and flowers on the mountainside. It might help if the child were given small models of these objects. The child is asked to draw these things so they are upright and not tilted.


Blind children can draw straight lines and geometric forms.

2.It is important to keep track of starting and endpoints when making outline drawings.

3.Drawings can be used to make maps of routes and places.

4.Objects can be vertical, tilted, or horizontal. It is important to note the orientation of things and keep the drawing material horizontal.

Special pointers on issues likely to arise: The suggested drawing lessons should follow the earlier drawing experiences and would be most useful to older children. We don't have normative data on these tasks for the blind, but we do know that drawing simple geometric shapes can be accomplished much earlier (seven or eight) than more complex arrays. Drawing maps and objects on the mountain can be attempted earlier, but distortion is likely for the younger child (e.g. seven through eight).

Older children (eight through ten) are more likely to succeed in producing accurate drawings of spatial layouts. It is important to avoid criticism and to maintain an encouraging tone. One should not expect absolute accuracy. Remember, sighted adults may produce grossly distorted line drawings when making maps of familiar layouts from memory.

Follow-on: Further discussion with children can focus on other uses for raised-line drawing kits. For example, the children may wish to learn letter or number shapes, if they are unfamiliar with them. Their writing can be both seen and touched, and this will help them communicate with the sighted. They might wish to play tic-tac-toe with raised lines. The children should be encouraged to generate other uses and subjects for drawings. They could draw pictures of beep-ball fields, bowling alleys, homes, and other large-scale objects.

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