What is an “experience book?”

A traditional book allows us to tell the same story, in the same way, to many different people. The story remains the same no matter who reads the book.

Having read the book, people can discuss the ideas in the story with each other. The discussion may focus on ideas that range from concrete to abstract. Who was in the story? What happened? Or, why did the character do what he did? How did the character feel? If a reader forgets part of the story, he or she can refer back to the text. It becomes the reference for future readers and future discussions.Experience books are similar to traditional books in that they:

  • tell a story;
  • are tied to specific language/communication;
  • allow a child to share, re-create, and review the same story over and over again with many different people, whether at home or at school; and
  • are the basis for conversation.

Experience books differ from traditional books in that:

  • Experience books are created with a specific reader in mind.
  • The story is based on an experience or interest of the target reader.
  • The objects included in the experience book are particular to the experience or interest of the student for whom the book is made.
  • The words written (and, when appropriate, brailled) on the pages are chosen for a particular student.

There are many different ways to make experience books. Several examples appear in the videos on this page. Identifying the desired outcome (for example: communication, structured interaction, consistency of vocabulary, reinforcement of familiar routines) will help to determine the appropriate format and content.

For those of you who scrapbook or keep mementos from a special event: Are they always pictures? Or do you include the dried flower, the ticket stub from the concert, the rock you found in a special place you hiked?

The question is not if the child sees “well enough”—it is how the child best interprets those pictures and links them to experiences or memories he has. The pictures might work well for concepts and parts of the experience that he is most familiar with. Newer concepts, however, might best be understood with a tactile object or a partial object to represent them.

No, it does not need to be confusing. The experience is what’s important. If reviewing and remembering it with both photos and objects is important to the child’s comprehension, then use both!
As many times as you want or she wants. When you create several experience books for the child to read, she will have favorites—just as we have favorite memories or experiences. She also will start to select different experience books, so identify each book with a different cover and tactile marker to help her scan the books quickly for the one she wants.
Children often memorize books they like before they ever read. Children who are deaf-blind can do the same with books that have concepts and experiences they know—and the “knowing” comes from repeatedly “reading” favorite experience books with the child.
Too often we adults select a commercial book and attach a tactile item or texture to each page. The child might—or might not—be interested in our product. Instead, try this strategy:
First, consider the experiences, concepts, and interests of the child. Over time, create a variety of experience books for the child, and help him understand what is in each book by involving him in the process. Making the experience book with the student helps him understand how it is connected to him.

Too often we make books after school or at home at night, and the child has no understanding of how the book “magically” appears. To be effective and efficient, make the books with the child, allowing him to do any small part he can. This approach can increase the likelihood that the child will be interested in the book.

With many of our children who are deaf-blind, we speak to them and assume: ”Aah, I am communicating and he is understanding.” Unfortunately, we might not be using some of the senses that work better for this child.
When using an experience book with a child we have many opportunities to meet the requirements of communication and conversation:
two people are interacting, with
a shared topic (the experience),
turn-taking, and
consistent vocabulary (objects and/or pictures on the page).
The child also is following a consistent sequence within the book, thus teaching beginning, middle, and end—concepts that are crucial to all learning.


Tips for Home or School

Some “Dos” and “Don’ts” for Creating Experience Books

By Mary Ellen Pesavento (2009)

DO create a book based on the child’s experience, thinking about what is both interesting and relevant to the child:

  • a favorite routine
  • a favorite outing
  • a favorite toy
  • a favorite person
DON’T adapt a commercially available book. Experience stories should:

  • be personalized and relevant to the child.
  • reflect a real experience in a child’s life, or focus on a child’s interest.
 DO use vocabulary and develop concepts relevant to the child’s own experience.

  • Keep it simple.
  • Keep it meaningful.
DON’T clutter the story with too much information.

  • Focus on the child’s experience.
  • Include details important to the student.
DO write words (and braille if appropriate) on each page so individuals who are reading the book with the student use the same vocabulary each time the story is read. DON’T focus on having the child read the text. Generally, students using experience books connect with the objects placed on each page.
DO use objects relevant to the child’s experience.

  • In a book about mealtime, a child who uses a spoon may have a spoon on the page. A child who is tube fed, however, may have a piece of surgical tubing.
  • Use objects the child will recognize and that represent ideas or concepts from the child’s perspective.
DON’T use miniaturized objects.

  • Focus on the child’s experience.
  • Determine what the child interacts with during the activity