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 has been updated.

Preparing for the First Day of School

In kindergarten, children start seatwork, tasks accomplished at a table or desk and chair. 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. Starting early 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 their work, or do they 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.

The Classroom Structure

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. Sometimes the children choose the sequence in which they will do the work. This depends on how the teacher organizes the classroom. It may change from the beginning or the end of the school year. Children will be more tentative at the beginning of the school year and more confident through the year. So what does this mean for your child with blindness or low vision?

What You and the Team Can Do

  • It’s important for your child to be 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 they 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 they have one, use it to get from one learning center to another. If it is a center-based classroom, use it at least in the beginning of the school year. (Children may be expected to “park” their canes in their cubby. You want to make sure your child is familiar with the classroom before temporarily giving up his tools.)
  • Ask the teacher to include an organizer, like a label in braille or large print. Suggest that it is always placed on the same part of the learning center (such as the right corner of the table). 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. The reading center might have a miniature book. These tactile clues are helpful to all children, not just children with blindness or low vision.