UBC Reports | Vol. 48 | No. 10 | Aug.
1 , 2002
Singing Bear Helps Visually Impaired Children Read
Plush toy becomes valuable tool.
By Rosalind Duane
A singing bear named Spinoza serenaded guests at the launch of
the Literacy Alliance for Children with Visual Impairments held
at UBC's Faculty of Education on July 4. In the first-ever alliance
of its kind, the faculty has partnered with several local, national,
and international organizations including the Canadian National
Institute for the Blind (CNIB), Literacy BC, the Hadley School for
the Blind in Illinois and the Spinoza for Kids Program to combine
resources to help children with visual impairments learn to read.
Spinoza the Talking Bear, a three-pound plush teddy bear that talks
and sings with the aid of cassette tapes hidden in its body, was
introduced as the centrepiece of a new literacy gift pack to help
preschool-aged children with visual impairments learn to read using
braille or other literacy tools. The pack also contains parent guides,
teaching videos for educators, reading program information, tactile
stickers and markers, and Slate and Stylus for writing braille.
Assoc. Prof. Cay Holbrook, director of UBC's training program for
teachers of visually impaired children, developed the list of contents
for the packages with the help of CNIB and international partners.
Holbrook said she believes the new literacy pack is a perfect combination
"Listening to a book being read is not the same as reading
it yourself," said Holbrook. "But listening is part of
a literacy tool box. Spinoza starts that tool box in a very fun
and comforting way."
Alliance partners plan to distribute 100 literacy gift packs to
families and educators throughout B.C. over the next two years,
aiming to link educators and parents of visually impaired children
to the support and information that they will need to prepare their
child for school.
"Nothing like this happened in my young day," said Winifred
Craig, who made a legacy gift to the graduate program in visual
impairment at UBC. She donated the money in honour of her and her
husband in recognition of challenges they have faced as visually
impaired people. "This will help young people do what they
want to do in life," she said.
Holbrook said the group plans to expand the program.
"The strength of the program lies in the community relationships
that develop," she said. "We hope to replicate that in
Other members of the alliance include Vancouver Sun Raise-a-Reader
program, the American Foundation for the Blind, the American Printing
House for the Blind, Panago Pizza, TB Vets Charitable Foundation,
the Provincial Resource Centre for the Visually Impaired, and QLT
Inc. which has committed $30,000 to the program over the next two