Elementary School Years
When your child enters elementary school, he is making a significant transition from home and part-time early childhood programs to full-time school and more structured, challenging academic programs. He is expected to participate in independent and group activities that test his ability to follow instructions. He is also expected to respond appropriately to teachers and classmates, organize his materials, and be responsible for his actions.
The Importance of Feedback
During the elementary school years, your child will be honing skills that compensate for her visual impairment and applying those skills to her studies and after-school activities. It's important that she begin to evaluate her own performance in order to move from one skill level to the next. Once your child has met her own standard, she needs to be challenged to meet the standards being set by her classmates—with and without visual impairments. You and her teachers can encourage her to strive for improving skills by giving her realistic feedback on all her efforts, helping her to understand how she is performing in comparison with others.
Your child needs the challenge of your high expectations for what she will accomplish in elementary school. She also needs to:
- Learn that she is expected to join in school and after-school activities
- Understand that being evaluated by teachers and classmates on her academic work and behavior toward others is a normal part of going to school
- Expand her social skills by learning how to communicate with others and be comfortable expressing her ideas and feelings
In many ways, expectations and achievement are parts of a circle. When you expect your child to do well, she is more likely to do so. And when she demonstrates competence, you and others see her as accomplished. That reinforces her confidence in her abilities and, in turn, provides a foundation for increased competence.
The primary purpose of elementary education is teaching children the basic academic subjects—reading, writing, arithmetic, science, and social studies. But during these formative years, children also are learning a wide range of adaptive skills:
- Organization—There are very few people, children or adults, who can work efficiently in a messy space with scattered materials. That's why classroom teachers often check students' notebooks and desks for neatness. It's especially important for children with visual impairments to be well organized in school because they are likely to have more specialized materials to keep track of: magnifiers; page markers, reading windows, raised-line paper, a talking calculator. You can give your child added practice in being organized by encouraging him to put away clothes and other belongings in their specific places; instructing him on setting the table and making it his nightly task; or letting him decide how to arrange his bureau drawers.
- Helping Others—Children who are visually impaired have a limited sense of mutual dependence. They are used to receiving help but rarely are asked for help. One of the ways teachers may introduce and reinforce awareness of interdependence is to ask a visually impaired student to help a classmate with a task he or she has already mastered. There are many ways you can reinforce a sense of mutual dependence at home: asking your visually impaired child to help a younger sibling get dressed; asking him to hold your place on line at the supermarket while you get one more item.
- Initiative—Becoming a self-starter can be hard for all children. In their early years they're expected to wait for parents to tell them what to do. For children with vision problems it's even more difficult to overcome the passivity of not acting until being instructed. Your child's teachers and you need to explore ways to clarify your expectations for what can and should be done without specific instructions. One way teachers do this is to outline the first assignment for the following day and expect students to work on completing it as soon as they get to class. At home, you can outline tasks that need to be done during the course of the day and evening and let your child know you expect them to be done without prompting.
- Independence—At the elementary school level, you'll find yourself paying more and more attention to your child's growing independence. You want him to emerge from his first six or seven years of school as a fairly self-sufficient teenager who is responsible, curious, considerate, and eager to continue his studies in high school and beyond. Independence is a skill like any other. It needs to be taught, practiced, and nurtured. A child with vision problems needs some special help to develop that skill. For example:
• Manners. A child who is visually impaired can't see, and therefore may not recognize, the effect her actions have on others. Because it's hard for her to decipher unspoken disapproval or appreciation, she needs your help in learning polite, thoughtful behavior in a variety of situations.
• Clothing sense. Today's elementary school children can be sophisticated about what they wear. They can also be intensely critical of classmates who don't conform to their fashion standards. Your visually impaired child will have to rely on both you and his classmates for finding out what's "in" and what's "out." This is a tricky issue. While you don't want him to be teased for what he's wearing or feel he has to have every latest fad, you do want him to learn that his appearance can make a difference in how he fits into his social surroundings.
• Humor. Encourage your child to see the funny side of things. It can be embarrassing to your child to have a classmate tell her that she's wearing socks that don't match—but it's also funny. If she can laugh at herself, with her classmates, she's going to find it easier to get along and experience a lot less stress. Having a sense of humor is more than telling jokes. It's being able to enjoy other people's jokes and laugh at one's own silly mistakes.
• Physical Fitness. Make sure your child doesn't sit on the sidelines during physical education class because the teacher thinks his visual impairment means he can't participate in fitness or sports activities. With appropriate training, visually impaired children can and do enjoy a wide range of sports.
• Dependability. You and your child's teachers should expect your child to become increasingly responsible for herself—being on time for school, following a schedule, completing homework assignments, and following through on promises. Watches and clocks with Braille or large print numbers, and talking watches are helpful tools she can use to pace herself.