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Experience Books: A Tool for Conversation

Experience books can be a meaningful early literacy experience that encourage language development and communicative exchange

Purpose of Experience Books

  • Personal book is motivating

How many of you scrapbook or keep a journal to remember important events/people in your lives?  An experience book is a way for a student with deafblindness to record such information in a format that fits his/her unique needs.

  • Teach and review concepts

After an experience book page is made you can go back and “relive” what happened.  If you did a page about learning to do laundry, going back over the page can help review the important steps/concepts that are being taught.

  • Reinforce language experiences

It is always important to tie language to all experiences.  If your student learned a new sign (apple) and you went to the store and bought apple there would be multiple times to use the sign apple.  An experience book page about the trip to the store to buy apples would be very helpful.

  • Relive past experiences

Just as we use scrapbooks, photo albums or journals to relive past experiences the experience pages can do the same thing.

  • Individualize

Every child with deafblindness has his/her unique needs.  An experience book page can be tailor made to fit these needs.  For example, if you have a child with good vision more detail could be made visually.  If your child was a tactile learner more textures could be used.

Important Individual Considerations

  • Use representative materials and actual objects.

Use items that were used in the actual experience and represent what the child found interesting about the activity.   Save meaningful items that were used in the activity to use on your page.

  • Learning proceeds from concrete to abstract.

​”Concrete” refers to the actual object or experience perceptible by the senses.  Considered apart from concrete (real) existence, “abstract” refers to ideas or concepts that have no physical referents.

Illustration of concrete to abstract

Start simple and use objects that the child would understand.  For example, in the apple example from above a concrete object would be the apple.  Moving to more abstract would be a picture of an apple, a drawing of the apple,  and then word or sign for apple.

  • Child is actively involved.

Remember this is the child’s experience book not yours.  Have them help as much as possible.  Use hand under hand or hand over hand techniques if needed. Give the child time to explore the objects to be placed on the page, choose where on the page to put the items, paste etc.

  • Book relates to the CHILD’S experiences.

Remember to show the page as the child experienced the activity, not how you did or wanted him/her to.

  • Making entries meaningful.

Once again, display what was meaningful to the child and represent that on the page.

  • Add entries during the activity or as soon as possible after the activity.

It is important to do the page when the activity is fresh on your child’s mind.  Hopefully, in doing it quickly the memories will remain and you can go back periodically and relive the experience with the child.  If you wait to long you might forget important details that occurred.  The page will be more meaningful long term if the child remembers what he/she did.

  • Use a variety of approaches to produce pages.

Be creative and have fun.  Use different colors, textures, pictures etc. to make the pages memorable.

  • Emphasize important details.

These details are what the child found important in the activity.


Examples of Things to Put in an Experience Book

Experience book pages can help to introduce things about the child to others. It can help the child anticipate and feel excited that a favored activity is going to be experienced again. The actual object from the page can be used again during the activity.

Emotional Experience:  A Trip to the Doctor

I went to the Doctor for a Checkup

He looked in my mouth with one of these (tongue depressor)

He said I was doing fine.  He gave me a sticker. He was nice.

Trip to the doctor experience
Trip to the doctor experience

Special Events:  Daddy Daughter Date  

I went to a dance.  It was a 50’s sock hop.

Everybody got a pin.  The KSM stands for Kearns Special Mutual.

I wore a poodle skirt.

I got to dance with my Dad and wheel my chair lots and lots.

Daddy Daughter Dance experience
Daddy Daughter Dance experience

Fun Recurring Activities: Wendy’s French Fries

I ate at Wendy’s.  I like French Fries the most.

French Fries from Wendy's
French Fries from Wendy’s

Anticipated Future Events:  Moving to a New House

I am moving in two months.  This is my new house.  I like the green door.

Moving to a new house
Moving to a new house

Generalizing Skills:  I Can Tie My Shoes!

I’ve learned to tie my…SHOES!

I've learned to tie my...SHOES!
I’ve learned to tie my…SHOES!
Popcorn party
Social Events:  Popcorn Party
I had a popcorn party for my birthday.
Washing hands
Self-Help Skills:  I Am Learning to Wash My Hands
I’ve learned to wash and dry my hands before I eat.

Favorite Things:  Making Cookies with Mom

I love making cookies with my mother, as often as I can.

Making cookies
Making cookies

Tips for Making an Experience Book

Use the following tips to make the experience book more senatorially accessible to the child with deafblindness

  • Use bright colors, color combinations and contrasts.
Carnival necklaces
Carnival necklaces

The bold black text helps to draw attention to the page.

The metallic purple is a good visual contrast to the bright green.

I went to the High School Basketball game.  I liked waving the POM-POMS.

The bright red background provides visual contrast.

The yellow pom-pom provides a tactile remembrance.

  • Use pictures of the child participating in the activity.
  • Use real (concrete) items.
  • Save “experience items” (garbage, mementoes) of activities done in the community, at home, at school.
  • Caption the page using the child’s “voice”.
    For example:

“My mom and I baked a cake for my birthday last night”

“I went to McDonalds with my friend Sam on Saturday.”

“We had an assembly at school today with the chorus.”

I went to the beach.  I liked finding seashells.
I went to the beach. I liked finding seashells.
  • Include pictures of the child participating in the activity.
  • Caption the page using the child’s “voice”.
  • Use actual objects (mementos) from the activity.
  • Date the page.
  • Include auditory experiences.

If you have a student with good functional hearing try adding features to your page that incorporate sound.  For example:

  • Tape record voices that correspond with the activity.
  • Tape record sounds that correspond with the book and pictures.
  • Use objects that make noise, i.e. crinkly paper, if the paper was part of the experience.
The XIX Olympic Winter Games
The XIX Olympic Winter Games
  • Visual and tactile reminder of the logo seen often throughout.
  • A tape recording of the Olympic theme song played before each event.
  • Place the items in a book or binder of some type.

Important Considerations to Remember

To enhance the child’s understanding of the concept of the experience book choose the time and topics carefully:

  • Pick a time when the child is best able to attend to the activity.  The child should be in a quiet or active alert state.
  • Initially pick topics that are most meaningful to the child.   Meaning comes through participation, so initial pages should be routine activities that the child has experienced often.

Reprinted with the permission of the Utah Deafblind Project. This information was adapted from “The Experience Book”, Monaco and Mayer, 1993. 

Experience books collage

Group of clovers

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The days of the week in a binder with velcroed cards and object symbols.

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Liam using refreshable braille.

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