For years, the Perkins Panda kit has served as a beloved early literacy tool for children with visual impairments. Through stories, songs and activities narrated by renowned New England storyteller Odds Bodkins, the cuddly Panda teaches fundamental literacy skills and introduces braille to children from birth to 8 years of age.
Now, our fuzzy friend is getting an upgrade. In addition to its traditional cassettes, families can download the audio content in digital MP3 format.
“People love the Panda,” said Kelsey Bronski, marketing program specialist at Perkins Solutions. “It’s almost like a mini mascot for Perkins. And now it’s more convenient.”
The classic Perkins Panda kit remains the same. For $59, families receive the 20-inch stuffed Gund Panda with its own backpack, along with interrelated songs and storybooks in uncontracted (beginning-stage) braille, large print and high-contrast illustrations. Also included are activity guides, a story box, cassettes and a tote bag in which to carry everything.
The MP3 audio download costs an additional $11.99. Families that already own the kit can purchase the MP3 audio files and play them on their phones, tablets or computers. Songs include Bodkins’ “Belly Button” and the “Someone Loves You” lullaby.
Amber Bobnar, founder of the Perkins-affiliated WonderBaby.org, said the Panda is very popular with families of children who are blind. More than 2,000 people entered to win the kit in one of her giveaway contests. Bobnar even made a video about the Perkins Panda:
“It can be so hard to find something this interactive for kids who are learning braille,” she said. “What I think gets families most excited is the idea that this entire kit was made for them and their kids. This isn’t something you need to adapt to make accessible. It’s also not simply a children’s book with braille overlay. These books were clearly written for kids who are visually impaired and so much thought was put into making the entire kit work as a whole, from the books to the toy to the music to the story box and activity guides.”
Plus, the Panda is soft and comforting, with tactile ears and paws.
“The Perkins Panda stuffed animal has many different textures and sounds that match up with the textures in the book,” Bobnar said. “Kids can see right away how the real life toy is represented in the book and this helps them to understand and enjoy the story more.”