Preparing for the First Day of Public School as a Student Who is Blind or Has Low Vision
In this excerpt from Reach Out and Teach: Helping Your Child Who Is Visually Impaired Learn and Grow by Kay Alicyn Ferrell, a child’s kindergarten classroom environment is explored with ideas for preparing young children for their very first day of public school.
Preparing for the First Day of School
In kindergarten, children start seatwork, the kinds of tasks that are accomplished at a table or desk and chair, instead of sitting or lying on the floor. Some schools may let students lie on the floor, while others may allow special chairs that reduce fatigue. This issue is brought up now, during this period of getting ready for school, so that you consider where you have been working with your child and whether your child might need some practice time at a child-size table or desk.
Other than the physical act of sitting (or sitting in one place for a period of time), what you really want to explore is your child’s attention span. Can he pay attention to you when you’re talking? Does he have the stamina to finish what he’s working on, or does he get restless and need to get up several times during a task? Is he a perfectionist who gets frustrated if he can’t get something right?
In kindergarten, it’s unlikely that children will be expected to do one activity for more than 20 minutes at a time, an event that may be too long for many kindergartners. The longest activity in kindergarten is probably circle time in the morning when most teachers lead their students through morning exercises and set out the schedule for the morning. Many kindergartens use a center-based curriculum with several centers or stations set up in the classroom—one for quiet listening, one for reading, one for art, one for mathematics, one for make-believe play and dress up, and so forth. The kindergartners move from center to center to do their work. Sometimes the teacher directs them to different centers, and sometimes the children choose the sequence in which they will do the work, depending on how the teacher organizes the classroom and whether it’s the beginning or the end of the school year. Children will be more tentative at the beginning of the school year and more confident toward the end of the school year. So what does this mean for your child with blindness or low vision?
- Get your child acquainted with the area. Ask an O&M specialist to orient your child to the layout of the school and his classroom before the first day of school. Make sure his orientation to the classroom includes not just the perimeter of the classroom, but what’s in the middle, too.
- Make sure the teacher allows your child to use his cane, if he has one, to get from one learning center to another, if it is a center-based classroom, at least in the beginning of the school year. (Sometimes children are expected to “park” their canes in their cubby, but you want to make sure your child is familiar with the classroom before giving up his tools, however temporarily.)
- Ask the teacher to include an organizer, like a label in braille or large print, that’s always placed on the same part of the learning center (such as the right corner of the table). Preferably the label would identify the center in braille, but a tactile clue could also be used. For example, the drawing center might have a crayon glued to the table, or the reading center might have a miniature book. These tactile clues are helpful to all children, not just children with blindness or low vision.