Depending on where you live and when you read this, you may not know yet if your child is returning to a physical classroom in the fall. But even if your child’s school does re-open, these suggestions for ways to broaden your child’s educational experience at home may come in handy.
Nick Hadfield, a Teacher of the Blind and Visually Impaired (TVI) and a Certified Orientation and Mobility (O&M) Specialist in Minnesota, started working with his students from home last spring when COVID-19 hit the country hard. What’s more, he and his wife, Melissa, have two children with special needs — 11-year-old Brady, who is legally blind, and 8-year-old Maddie, who has a major heart condition — so Nick understands both sides of the equation when it comes to parents taking on some of the responsibility for their kids’ education.
Strategies he’s used to work with his students and their families, while keeping his own children’s studies on track, may give other parents some great ideas.
Use your imagination
As the saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention. Nick came up with the idea to create his own videos with audio to provide students with stimuli they’re used to.
For example, one of the students he works with who is deafblind is happiest outdoors in the sunshine, listening to children playing in the park. With all the parks closed, Nick enlisted the help of the student’s deafblind intervener to create a video of the student’s familiar route, creating an O&M lesson with sounds the student loves in the background.
Nick narrated the video for his student. “I said things like, ‘When you’re coming out I want you to listen to all the kids screaming and yelling at the ballpark and the skate park and the playground,’ and added O&M language to that.”
Parents can easily find sound effects or other audio that soothes their children, such as music, online for free, and it only takes a little practice to learn how to create video or audio recordings, depending on your child’s needs. Search online for a tutorial that applies to whatever equipment you have available.
Use at-home time to build ECC skills
Teaching independent living skills that are part of the Expanded Core Curriculum (ECC) is another chance to be creative at home.
“Cooking and cleaning are things we’ve done with our kids a lot — especially during a pandemic, sanitizing everything is a great learning opportunity,” Nick says. “The kids have been helping me with some little construction projects, too, based on the activities they can do.”
They also take bike rides and enjoy their home’s lake access, to get physical activity into every day.
Ask questions and advocate
During the end of the last school year, when schools were closed, Nick spent a lot of time answering emails and having video chats with parents. Just as he would for his own children, he encourages parents to advocate for theirs.
“There’s a give-and-take relationship where you have to hold each other accountable and recognize that we’re all figuring this out, so it’s not going to be a perfect situation,” Nick says. “Sometimes we have to write an email to a teacher and say, ‘This just isn’t accessible so we’re not going to do it or we’ll do it in our own way.’ TVIs are advocating for their students, too, and when it’s in the best interests of the kids we do our best to meet families in the middle.”
Nick adds that there’s no magic answer to the challenges of teaching from outside the classroom. But he hopes that on the other side of the pandemic there will be a better understanding among educators about what is — and isn’t — accessible.
Don’t feel pressured to meet every goal
All students who can’t be in school, whether or not they are blind or visually impaired, are missing out on some part of the at-school experience. Although parents rightfully want their children to keep up with their Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) goals, being too forceful about it may not be the right thing for parents or their children.
“When the pandemic first started, we kind of hit the pause button,” Nick says. “Yes, we absolutely wanted to get to academics and our expanded core curriculum, but please do it at the moment when it’s right for the family. In the meantime, look at this as an opportunity to reconnect as a family, too.”