Feature Writer Jane Kronheim – The Learning Pillows That Were Sent Far and Wide

After working on the Learning Pillows for several years, I started to get feedback from many people and agencies across the globe. Requests were often specific and spelled out the hidden needs of many families where blind and visually impaired children lived. I recall a hand written letter from a family in West Virginia. They asked if I could send them the parts and pieces of one particular Learning Pillow so they could put this together in front of their children. I learned that they had a blind two year old at home, and another child who was attending the school for the deaf and blind in that state. As an aside, they also shared that a child who “lived around the block” enjoyed the Learning Pillow and the accompanying story. I remember how that one request really touched my heart, as I continued to sew and stitch and blend together the tactuals and visuals that were attached to these colorful felt pillows.

During the late 1980’s I traveled to Israel to present my Learning Pillows to a gathering of international vision professionals. This took place at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. It was a wonderful experience and even though many attendees did not know English very well, they quickly understood the design and purpose of each Learning Pillow that I demonstrated and discussed. While there I traveled to Tel Aviv and Haifa. There was a wonderful preschool program located in Haifa where blind and visually impaired preschoolers learned together. When I visited that preschool, I presented a Learning Pillow to them called “The King and His Closet.” Immediately upon seeing it the teacher exclaimed: “The King character looks just like Ben Gurion!” I hadn’t realized how much the face with a bald spot on top of the head and vivid white hair stitched on either side of the face did indeed look just like Ben Gurion, who was the first Prime Minister of Israel! The teacher and I laughed heartily with this revelation. It was then that I devised a story about Ben Gurion that could possibly connect with this particular pillow. I never knew what would happen when I shared a Learning Pillow!

When early learning materials are designed with a cross cultural purpose in mind, they can go anywhere and reach any child who is ready to learn early literacy concepts. Often the concepts involved directionality and movement like: in, under, on top of and in between. Those ideas were always present in the story of “Mr. Bug Tries to Hide”, another Learning Pillow. Imagine how blind and visually impaired children could learn what that means when playing with the Learning Pillow and then trying to relate those spatial ideas around the house, or apartment or hut, or tent, or where ever they live in the landscape of the world! And that is what happened with the Learning Pillows as they went to far flung places.

Some families of blind children traveled to Boston for eye care with a well known retina specialist with whom I happened to be working at the time. These families came from some rather exotic places like Saudi Arabia, Chile, and Afghanistan to mention a few. I recall when the family from Chile remained in the Boston area for many weeks. They had housing assistance from the Salvation Army and at one point I found out that they wanted to speak with me regarding the educational needs of their child. We met at my apartment in Watertown where I lived at the time, and we had a joyous “meeting of the minds” when I discovered that the mother was a teacher who very quickly understood the meaning of my Learning Pillows for her child. Even though we could not speak each other’s language perfectly, we immediately communicated how these early learning materials could help their young blind child. These are just a few of the many stories I recall about the development of the Learning Pillows and how they nurtured the early learning concepts of the young blind and visually impaired child.

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