If you’re like me (a bit of a nerd at heart), you may remember your childhood school “first days” as fun and exciting, with possibly a few nervous butterflies in the mix. I loved the satisfaction of putting a crisp, clean stack of paper into my brightly colored Trapper-Keeper (did you know they’re back in style??) and sliding all my gel pens and freshly sharpened pencils into the little slots up front. Or…maybe you’re rolling your eyes and chuckling because you were the exact opposite! Wherever you fell on the spectrum of first-day-of-school emotions, I’m willing to bet the parent version of you wants the first-day (and entire school year) to be a positive experience for your kiddo who is blind or low vision. Lucky for you, there are a few different ways to stack the deck in their favor.
Savvy for You – Getting Started
This is the perfect time to start preparing your child who is blind or has low vision for what to expect on the first days and weeks on campus. Help them shape and polish some of their existing social skills, offering them a boost of confidence and know-how to carry with them into their new classroom.
You can even take it a step further and “teach” the teacher all the best ways to support and accommodate your student while in the classroom. That’s a win-win for both the teacher and your child!
Savvy for Your Kiddo – Interacting with Peers and Other Adults
Here are a few ideas for topics to address now and in the coming weeks that will likely help smooth the transition back into the classroom after a summer away:
- Making Introductions – Knowledge of personal information (middle names and birthdays are common stats discussed in the elementary crowd) and a simple one or two-sentence explanation of their diagnosis and how it affects them can offer a proactive answer to the curious little minds of their classmates, without attracting unwanted attention to your child.
- Engaging In Conversations – Talk about the differences in how to address teachers and other adults vs. speaking with their peers. Discussing and even role-playing when to raise their hand and various conversation topic ideas to help initiate a chat with a friend. Teaching non-verbal communication can be tricky but is oh-so-worth the time. Here’s a great place to start: Nonverbal Communication Skills for Blind Children.
- Manners / Etiquette – From a general “please” and “thank you” to chewing with lips closed during lunch and snack time, to speaking quietly in the library, and to making sure stall or bathroom doors are closed after they enter – there is a lot of ground to cover here! Don’t stress, just tackle one thing at a time and be patient.
These are just a few ideas for social skills to brush up on at any time of the year. To keep the good times rolling, check out some more ideas, along with valuable teaching tips here: Social Interaction Skills and the Expanded Core Curriculum and here: Try Any of These 8 Fun Activities to Practice Social Skills with Your Child.
Savvy for the Teachers – Teaching a Child Who is Blind or Has Low Vision
There are various reasons that the classroom teachers and/or special area teachers may not comb through your kiddo’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP) as thoroughly as you might hope. They are in your child’s corner though and would likely appreciate any direction you have to offer. Who better to provide insight on your youngster than you? Here are a few ways you can help these crucial members of your child’s education team hone their skills for interacting with your kiddo.
- Provide them with a copy of this short but informative record with basic tips for interacting with students who are blind or have low vision. When You Have a Visually Impaired Student in Your Classroom—Basic Tips. You could bring it to orientation, shoot them an email, or drop it off on the first day. Bonus points for packaging it with a small gift!
- Tell them about APH’s Getting to Know You guide: Getting to Know You: A Social Skills and Ability Awareness Curriculum. It’s a Social Skills & Ability Awareness Curriculum that promotes peer awareness and understanding of children who are blind or have low vision. It will engage both your kiddo and their classmates in valuable and fun interactions.
- A great way to bring your child’s teacher up to speed and prepare them to best serve your kiddo is to create a one page “About Me” document on the important points of who your child is, their learning style(s), considerations they may need in the classroom and specific IEP accommodations…sort of like the Cliff’s Notes on your child’s life. Keep reading to find a template to get you started!
Bonus! “About Me” Template
Since I know you already have your hands full with all the school supply shopping, school clothes buying, social skill teaching, and general day-to-day activities happening around your house, I thought I’d help you out and offer a starting point. Click here to download your teacher Info Sheet.
- Fill in the blanks on the form below with your child’s particulars, and print as many copies as you need!
- Consider slightly modifying the sheets that you give to different types of teachers, especially with respect to special areas. For example, you may want to explain to the P.E. teacher how bright, sunny days cause glare issues for your child and offer suggestions on how they could best accommodate in that situation. However, Music or Art teachers might not need that particular bullet point. Indoor lighting needs and preferences would be more strategic to include on their one-page sheet.
- Add a picture of your little darling to the “About Me” page to add a personal touch, attract attention, and give a visual reference as they are reviewing the information you’ve shared.
- Pinterest-y parents, feel free to make your sheet as “extra” as you’d like, but be careful that your page doesn’t get too crowded – the goal is ease of reading for the teacher!
As you gear-up for fall, buy all the fun supplies, and work on developing the social skill savvy for you, your kiddo, & their future teachers, don’t forget to enjoy the last little bit of summer together – it’s a fun time!