Such a whirlwind of bittersweet emotions—kindergarten is approaching! It’s hard to believe how quickly the years have passed, isn’t it? Your little one went from complete dependence on you (with 100% baby adorableness) to making strides toward independence (with 100% “big kid” adorableness). Thankfully your child’s absolute preciousness hasn’t changed, but their level of autonomy has. So, let’s take a look at how you can be preparing your child for increased independence in preparation for kindergarten.
Working with Your Child’s Educational Team
Every child is unique in their abilities. Hopefully, with you as the lead, your child’s educational team has worked together over the years to assess your child and support their individualized goals in the blindness-specific Expanded Core Curriculum (ECC). Your child’s progress in this curriculum will certainly prepare them for the academic setting. The following objectives fall within the ECC, and are particularly beneficial in the kindergarten classroom.
Communication will be key to your child getting their needs met most efficiently. A verbal child can be taught to ask for what they need using polite words and phrases and to use appropriate nonverbal communication such as raising the hand and directing the head toward the teacher when talking; a nonverbal child can be taught to use a communication system—your child’s educational team can work together to decide on the most appropriate one. In preparation for using this skill in the classroom, wait for your child to ask you for support before assisting them with a task. Yes, you probably often know what your child needs before they ask, but stepping back and waiting for them to ask will prepare them for self-determination in the classroom and beyond.
If your child’s school is planning to require masks in the fall, you may want to allow your child to choose a preferred mask and obtain plenty of practice putting it on, wearing it, removing it, and storing it in a particular location (such as in pant pockets or in a specific pouch). Your child can also help you come up with a special tactile design or tag that can confirm they are wearing the mask correctly (a stitched line on the exterior of the mask) and can confirm they are holding or wearing their mask as opposed to a classmate’s.
Meal / Snack Time
Many kindergarteners need assistance opening a milk carton or a tricky snack bag—waiting for a busy adult to make their rounds to help your child will decrease the amount of time they have to eat. Work with your child’s educational team to plan for increased independence at meal and snack times, as well as to teach table manners. Some children will need specific containers, utensils, and supports, while others simply need repeated direct instruction and practice opening and closing the types of storage they will use during school lunch. Set your child up for success by giving them plenty of practice with the lunchbox: use it for picnic lunches, lunch on the go, or even play “school lunch” at the kitchen table.
Name Recognition in Braille/ Print
Class desks, cubbies, art projects, folders, and more are commonly labeled with children’s names. It will be helpful if your child is able to recognize their name in braille, print (if appropriate), or even in both. Your child can work with their Teacher of Students with Visual Impairments (TVI) on the preliteracy and literacy skills needed. It will be helpful to expose your child to their name regularly. If your child isn’t developmentally ready to recognize their name, adding a particular tactile feature in addition to the braille may be appropriate.
Your child will benefit from increased independence in self-care skills such as getting dressed (removing and putting on a jacket and pulling down, up and securing pants in the restroom), washing and sanitizing hands, and using the bathroom. Focus on one skill at a time, divide the skill into smaller steps, and provide realistic feedback as your child gains independence. Even if your child is not developmentally or physically able to complete the tasks independently, they can work toward assisting a caregiver in accomplishing the tasks.
Increasing Attention Span
Classroom time often stretches children’s attention spans! You can help your child prepare for prolonged periods of active listening by reading aloud. Start with a few minutes of reading and gradually extend the read aloud time. You can help your child stay engaged by providing an appropriate, quiet sensory activity such as squeezing a stress ball when listening to the story. Perhaps you and your child can ask their teacher if the stress ball (or other quiet fidget item) can accompany them to school.
Parents, take a deep breath!
If you’re like me, thinking about preparing your child for school has you worried! Take a deep breath. Remember, this is a team effort! Consider a child who is learning braille—a physical therapist may recommend a device which allows the child sit up with the trunk support needed to have their hands free to read; an occupational therapist may recommend hand strengthening exercises; a speech therapist may work with the child on the language skills necessary to understand the word being read; the TVI will provide braille instruction; and the parent can advocate for the child, educate the other teammates about their child, share what motivates them, encourage the child day in and day out, maintain high expectations, and can even learn braille alongside the child.
With the support of a team, and you as the lead, your child can make strides toward independence in preparation for kindergarten.