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Invented by French teenager Louis Braille in 1824, braille has enabled millions of visually impaired kids worldwide to learn to read and write. However, the system of raised dots, representing individual alphabet and numbers, can be complicated for younger students to grasp. As a result, parents and educators are increasingly shunning the tactile literacy system, which is taught using special textbooks, in favor of online learning programs. Now, Denmark's LEGO Group hopes to reverse the trend with the help of braille bricks that allow children to learn through play.
"With thousands of audiobooks and computer programs now available, fewer kids are learning to read braille," said Philippe Chazal, treasurer of the European Blind Union. "This is particularly critical when we know that braille users often are more independent, have a higher level of education and better employment opportunities."
"We strongly believe LEGO braille bricks can help boost the level of interest in learning Braille, so we're thrilled that the LEGO Foundation is making it possible to further this concept and bring it to children around the world," he adds.
In the works since 2019, the braille bricks are similar to LEGO's, original building blocks. However, instead of the familiar eight studs, the 2x3 array features raised braille dots, with corresponding numbers and letters printed on the bottom, allowing blind and sighted players to build together. Though the bricks can be stacked and attached to one another, the process is not as seamless as with regular LEGOs since many symbols have fewer studs. Hence, the company recommends placing the bricks side-by-side. Each set of about 250 pieces includes letters A-Z (with regional variants), the numerals 0-9, as well as basic symbols like the "plus" and "minus" signs. The kit also includes specialty pieces so kids can play word and math games.
The best part is that the braille bricks, which will debut in 20 countries — including the US, Norway, the UK, France, Denmark, and Brazil — in the fall of 2020, are entirely free to school districts with visually blind students. The timing of the launch is particularly fortuitous given that many schools have been forced to cancel in-person learning due to COVID-19. Teachers or administrators can easily send the kits to the students' homes and interact with them online.
"Blind and visually impaired children have dreams and aspirations for their future just as sighted children," said John Goodwin, CEO of the LEGO Foundation. "They have the same desire and need to explore the world and socialize through play, but often face involuntary isolation as a consequence of exclusion from activities. In the LEGO Foundation, we believe children learn best through play and, in turn, develop the breadth of skills, such as creativity, collaboration, and communication, that they need in the post 4th Industrial Revolution. With this project, we are bringing a playful and inclusive approach to learning braille to children."
Kids are not the only ones benefiting from LEGO's innovation this year. In June 2020, the company released the LEGO® Nintendo Entertainment System™ (NES) Building Kit. Adult LEGO fans and nostalgic gamers can relive their favorite Super Mario Bros.™ childhood experiences by building an NES brick console with realistic details and a 1980's style LEGO television with a one-dimensional, 8-bit Mario figure on the scrolling screen. A scannable action brick, with LEGO® Mario™ from the LEGO Super Mario Starter Course, allows fans to mobilize the popular fictional character and watch him react to on-screen enemies, obstacles, and power-ups, just as he would have in the real Super Mario Bros. game.
For those not into gaming, there is "Lego Art." Introduced by the company on September 1, 2020, it enables adults to create pop art "posters" by arranging small, bead-size "bricks" on a canvas. The offering currently includes Andy Warhol's "Marilyn Monroe," Marvel Studios "Iron Man," Star Wars "The Sith," and The Beatles. Each set comes with the appropriate music, interviews, and background information, providing fans with an immersive experience as they create their masterpiece.
Resources: www. CNN.com, techchrunch.com,legobraille.com,