I feel lucky I have so much experience in adapting the world for my daughter given what the past four years have been for us, but still I feel overwhelmed. I really empathize with those who do not have the knowledge, bandwidth, resources, materials, etc., to take this on. I still feel like I am never doing enough. We are always wearing many hats as special needs parents, but this honestly feels like a bit much to take on even for the strongest and most determined parents. —White female family member of a child with low vision with additional disabilities, 6 years old

In the United States beginning at the age of 3 years, children move from early intervention services to school-age services under IDEA Part B. The IEP is the legal document that stipulates the child’s educational goals for a one-year period, the accommodations the child receives, and the amount of time educational team members provide instruction and/or consultation. In Canada there is no equivalent to IDEA. Special education services are regulated at the provincial level.

A Multiracial boy whisks eggs in a metal bowl.

There were 60 children (U.S. n=56, Canada n=4) in the survey who were receiving preschool services. In this section, data are not broken out by country of residence. Children’s descriptive characteristics and ages are reported in Table 4.


Table 4: Ages and Descriptive Characteristics of Children Receiving Preschool Education

AGE: Total (n=60) Blind (n=8) Low Vision (n=14) BL + Additional Disabilities (n=8) LV + Additional Disabilities (n=30)
3 Years Old 9 2 1 1 5
4 Years Old 28 4 6 5 13
5 Years Old 19 2 7 1 9
6–7 Years Old 4 0 0 1 3


Family members selected one of seven settings to describe where their child was receiving preschool education prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Table 5 shows the educational settings for the 60 preschoolers.

Table 5: Educational Settings of Students Based on Their Descriptive Characteristics

AGE: Total in Setting Blind (n=8) Low Vision (n=14) BL + Additional Disabilities (n=8) LV + Additional Disabilities (n=30)
Preschool class with typically developing peers 20 3 5 3 9
Special education preschool class 14 2 2 3 7
Specialized school 11 1 1 1 8
Day care or faith-based class 6 0 3 1 2
Homeschool 3 0 1 0 2
Preschool class with typically developing children taught by TVI 1 1 0 0 0
Child not enrolled in a preschool program 5 1 2 0 2


Preschool Education of Preschoolers Prior to the COVID-19 Pandemic

Family members reported that depending on their IEP goals and the setting in which their education was delivered, preschoolers had between one and 14 educational team members working with them prior to COVID-19. Three children had 10 or more team members supporting their education while five children only had one team member supporting their education. For preschoolers with low vision, the mean number of educational team members was 3.14 (SD=2.14); for preschoolers who were blind, the mean was 4.25 (SD=2.71); for preschoolers with low vision with additional disabilities, the mean was 6.90 (SD=2.73); and for preschoolers who were blind with additional disabilities, the mean was 5.38 (SD=3.16).

A White preschool girl explores the teddy bear in the book "That's Not My Bear" with the TVI watching remotely on the computer screen.

Although the survey was open from April 22 to May 13, 2020, the researchers opted to use March 1, 2020 as the date to mark the shift in educational delivery from school buildings to other delivery models. There were 45 family members who reported the number of hours per week during which their child attended preschool prior to March 1, 2020. Fourteen children attended preschool less than 10 hours a week, 14 children attended 11-20 hours a week, 8 children attended 21-30 hours a week, and 9 children attended 31 or more hours a week. Prior to March 1, 2020, 45 (75%) of the children attended preschool either 4 or 5 days each week.

Access to Educational Materials

Preschoolers with visual impairments use a wide array of materials to access and participate in instruction. Many of the materials used by children are specific to their level of visual impairment, the needs necessitated by their additional disabilities (if present), the educational curriculum, and their IEP goals and accommodations. Because the shift from attending school in a building to attending school remotely happened very quickly, the researchers wanted to understand if preschoolers had the materials they needed for their education at home. Family members were provided an extensive list of materials and asked which materials their child used at school prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. They were then presented the same list and asked to indicate which materials their child did not have at home which impacted their child’s ability to learn. Eighteen family members reported that their child had all the materials they needed for learning at home and 8 family members were unsure if there were materials their child was using at school that their child did not have at home. Materials that family members reported which their child did not have access to at home included:

  • Materials for tactile graphics (n=12)
  • Handheld magnifier (n=11)
  • Large print books (n=11)
  • Adapted books (n=9)
  • Perkins braillewriter (n=9)
  • Communication device (n=8)
  • Handheld monocular (n=7)
  • Electronic magnifier/CCTV (n=8)
  • Braille recreational books (n=7)
  • Victor Reader Stream or another device for listening to books (n=7)

It is noteworthy that 25 family members reported that their child used a tablet at school. Only 5 family members reported their child did not have access to one at home. Twenty-three family members reported their child used a white cane at school; only 3 reported their child did not have access to a white cane at home.

Preschool Education During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Families were typically given little notice that there was going be a shift in how preschool education was to be delivered. Of 48 family members who responded, 16 were given a one-day notice that there was to be a change in the way their child typically attended school, 5 were given two days, 8 were given three days, and

With the closure of school buildings, many educational team members began providing instruction online. Forty-one family members reported on the frequency of their child’s online instruction. Thirteen preschoolers were not receiving online instruction, 21 were receiving 1-3 hours of online instruction per week, and 7 preschoolers were receiving between 4-12 hours of online instruction per week.

Preschool Teachers Who Are Not Teachers Of Students With Visual Impairments

When asked if they had been contacted by their child’s preschool teacher after the school building was closed, 32 family members responded “yes,” while 5 family members said "no." Of the 32 family members who had been contacted by the preschool teacher, only 19 reported that the preschool teacher was continuing to work with their child during the COVID-19 pandemic. When provided a list of possible ways in which the preschool teacher might be working with their child, family members reported that preschool teachers were:

  • Recommending websites, videos, or other online resources (n=15)
  • Sending via email ideas and activities that the child does at preschool (n=14)
  • Meeting online with small groups of students to deliver instruction (n=10)

The group class meetings are on Google Meet which my daughter doesn’t like the screen size on. She says she can see people better on Zoom, but the district won’t use Zoom. I find it hard to complete the suggested activities the teacher gives us because they always seem to require materials or a setup that we don’t have at home. Sometimes the [materials to be printed] she sends don’t work for my daughter as a low vision child, or me as a blind mom. I work full time from home and none of my daughter’s schoolwork…she [can] do independently. So, we just aren’t able to get to all of it each week. Plus, my daughter needs hands-on experiential stuff, and a lot of what the teacher sends is pictures/videos/websites. —White female family member of a child with low vision, 6 years old

Family members were asked about the level of communication they had with their child’s preschool teacher. Of the 17 family members who responded, 1 reported having no communication, 2 had little or limited communication, 3 had the same level of communication, and 11 had increased communication.

A White preschool girl stands at a sliding glass door decorated with Easter decals. She points to a carrot.

Family members were also asked about the level of support they were receiving from their child’s preschool teacher. Of the 18 family members who responded, 3 had little or limited support, 5 had the same level of support, and 10 had increased support.

TVIs Not at Specialized Schools

Among children who did not attend a specialized school, 39 family members reported that their child had worked with a TVI, 1 was unsure if their child had worked with a TVI, and 3 reported their child had not worked with a TVI before the COVID-19 pandemic. When asked if they had been contacted by their child’s TVI once the school building closed, 32 family members reported “yes,” while 5 reported “no.” Of the 32 family members who had been contacted by the TVI, only 22 reported that the TVI was continuing to work with their child during the COVID-19 pandemic. When provided a list of possible ways the TVI might be working with their child, family members reported that TVIs were:

  • Meeting online individually with a family member and/or the child (n=14)
  • Recommending websites, videos, or other online resources specific to children with visual impairments (n=13)
  • Sending via email ideas and activities that the child does with the TVI (n=10)
  • Meeting online with small groups of students to deliver instruction (n=10)

Family members were asked about the level of communication they had with their child’s TVI. Of the 21 family members who responded, 3 had little or limited communication, 9 had the same level of communication, and 8 had increased communication.

Family members were asked about the level of support they were receiving from their child’s TVI. Of the 22 family members who responded, 1 had no support, 3 had little or limited support, 12 had the same level of support, and 6 had increased support.

Once a week [we join a] joint Zoom for 20 mins that is the same one as with her preschool teacher. [We receive a] massive list of things to do on an app which we either can’t do or don’t have the massive list of supplies that they require. Again, we are her parents not trained teachers and the task list or the visual schedule or the 100 things they want done does not work at home in a home environment. We are trying but there are limits. —White female family member of a child who is blind, 7 years old

O&M Specialists

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, 31 families reported that their child had worked with an O&M specialist, 5 were unsure if their child had worked with an O&M specialist, and 14 reported their child had not worked with an O&M specialist. When asked if they had been contacted by their child’s O&M specialist once the school building closed, 20 family members reported “yes,” while 9 reported “no.”

Of the 20 family members who had contact with the O&M specialist, only 12 reported that the O&M specialist was continuing to work with their child during the COVID-19 pandemic. When provided a list of possible ways the O&M specialist might be working with their child, family members reported that O&M specialists were:

  • Sending via email ideas and activities that the family can do to reinforce or build the child’s O&M skills (n=7)
  • Meeting online individually with a family member and/or the child (n=5)
  • Recommending websites, videos, or other online resources specific to children with visual impairments (n=5)

Family members were asked about the level of communication they had with their child’s O&M specialist. Of the 12 family members who responded, one reported having no communication, one had little or limited communication, 7 had the same level of communication, and 3 had increased communication.

Family members were also asked about the level of support they were receiving from their child’s O&M specialist. Of the 12 family members who responded, 1 had no support, 2 had little or limited support, 7 had the same level of support, and 2 had increased support.

[Not] receiving help on O&M and braille instruction are a big loss for our child. We can provide story time or worksheets, but we do not have the experience to provide her with the knowledge/skills of what was being provided through O&M, low vision, etc. —White female family member of a child with low vision with additional disabilities, 6 years old

Teachers at Specialized Schools

Eleven family members reported that their child had attended a specialized school before the COVID-19 pandemic. When asked if they had been contacted by any of the teachers from the specialized school once the school building closed, 8 family members reported “yes,” while one family member reported “no.” Of the 8 family members who had been contacted by a teacher from the specialized school, only 6 reported that a teacher was continuing to work with their child during the COVID-19 pandemic. When provided a list of possible ways the teacher might be working with their child, family members reported that teachers were:

  • Recommending websites, videos, or other online resources specific to children with visual impairments (n=6)
  • Meeting online with small groups of students to deliver instruction (n=5)
  • Sending via email ideas and activities that the child does with the teacher (n=5)
  • Meeting online individually with a family member and/or the child (n=4)

Family members were asked about the level of communication they had with their child’s teacher from the specialized school. Of the 6 family members who responded, 3 had the same level of communication, and 3 had increased communication.

Family members were also asked about the level of support they were receiving from their child’s teacher from the specialized school. Of the 6 family members who responded, 3 had the same level of support, and 3 had increased support.

My child attends two different preschools [one at a center for people with visual impairments and one at] our local church. From [professionals at the center], we receive weekly emails with the daily plans for the week and we’re supposed to have our child attend Zoom sessions twice a day, morning and afternoon, although we are only able to attend one daily because we are also trying to work from home with no childcare. Her two teachers at the church preschool are not trained in teaching visually impaired children. They have reached out twice via email just to check in and initially sent home a packet of worksheets and craft ideas when the quarantine began. —White female family member of a child with low vision, 6 years old

The Role of Family Members

Balancing family life, their child’s education, and in many cases, work responsibilities, puts a lot of stress on families. Twenty family members reported that they were currently working, with 15 working remotely from home and 5 working outside the home as essential workers. Fourteen family members reported that they were not employed.

Family members were asked their level of agreement with the statement: I believe that I am not living up to the expectations of my child’s educators because I cannot complete everything they are asking me to do with/for my child. Of the 55 family members who responded, the mean was 3.28 (SD=1.25) 14. Most family members rated this statement between “Neither agree nor disagree” and “Agree.” Educational team members need to ensure that their expectations for families are realistic and that they are not adding to the family’s stress level.


[W]hile I appreciate the teacher’s efforts to keep the class as connected and engaged as possible, it is very logistically challenging to participate fully when I have another child, a job I’m trying to do at home, and my child doesn’t like the virtual classroom. I wish I felt more capable as the parent to support my child’s total involvement in the virtual classroom, but I’m often feeling like we’re stressed and I’m not sure how much she is benefiting from any of it. —White female family member of a child with low vision with additional disabilities, 7 years old

Educational team members have a responsibility to prepare lessons for their students. When asked if they received lesson plans from teachers or therapists electronically (e.g., via email, Google Drive), 50 family members responded. Thirty-five family members reported that they received lesson plans, while 15 reported that they did not. Thirty-five family members shared how often they were sent lesson plans each week. Seventeen reported that they received lesson plans 1-2 times per week, 4 received them 3-4 times per week, 7 received them 5-6 times per week, 1 received them 7 or more times a week, and 6 reported that the number of times per week varied.

For some educational team members, having documentation to show the child has completed assigned work is important. Collected data can be used to plan future lessons, document progress towards IEP goals, or serve as evidence that the educational team member is providing instruction. Twenty of 50 family members reported they were asked by at least one teacher or therapist to send evidence that the child had completed an assignment such as by uploading a video or sending an email. Some family members reported they were encouraged to share photos or videos through a private Facebook group, for example, or during a small group or class Zoom meeting. A few family members found it stressful or challenging to be required to document their child’s progress.

It’s hard to do teaching and then stop to take proof pictures and still keep my child engaged in learning. —White female family member of a child with low vision with additional disabilities, 6 years old

Yet, for a few family members, the time taken to document their child’s learning gave them an opportunity to view their child’s progress and receive feedback from educational team members.

My child is receiving work to do at home in some [educational] websites proposed by his teacher. He also has videos or video meetings with his teachers and therapists. All these keep him in the learning path and connected in a school spirit with his teachers and peers. —Black or African American female family member of a child with low vision, 6 years old

Not all activities that were typically part of a child’s preschool day translated into a practical and/or meaningful activity at home.

This [home] environment does not work for kiddos with VI. Our teacher tries, but nothing translates at all. [Child] needs the hands-on tactile learning. And school circle time with a schedule book is quite frankly not how you live at home. —_White female family member of a child who is blind with additional disabilities, 7 years old


Family members were asked their level of agreement with the statement: I believe my child is continuing to make progress in the same way they would if there had not been a change in where and how my child is receiving educational services. Of the 53 family members who responded, the mean was 2.51 (SD=1.27). Most family members rated this statement between “Disagree” and “Neither agree nor disagree.” As we move into the 2020–2021 school year, educational team members will want to check in with family members to gather informal input from them about their child’s progress and together design a plan that works for the child to ensure the child is progressing in their learning.

Moving Into the 2020–2021 School Year

The Access and Engagement survey was open from April 22 to May 13, 2020 as the end of the 2019–2020 school year approached.

Family members were asked their level of agreement with the statement: Because of the changes in my child’s education, I do not believe my child will be ready for the next school year. Of the 55 family members who responded, the mean was 2.94 (SD=1.20). Most family members rated this statement as “Neither agree nor disagree.” For many family members, there was considerable uncertainty about the level of preparedness their child would have for the following school year.

Family members were also asked if their child would transition from preschool education to kindergarten and/or a special education classroom that is not a preschool classroom for the 2020–2021 school year. Twenty-five of 55 family members indicated their child would transition and 6 family members were unsure.

When asked to select a statement that described their feelings about their child’s upcoming transition out of preschool, 26 family members selected a statement that described their feelings. Six family members had no concerns, 12 were unsure how the transition would happen since schools were closed, and 2 were unsure who they should speak to about the upcoming transition. Six family members provided written responses in which they expressed concern about the upcoming transition.

A White preschool girl explores a branch as her faher does yardwork. He is wearing gloves and standing by a trashcan as he watches his daughter.

[COVID-19] has greatly impacted my feelings about [my child’s transition out of preschool]. I am nervous and anxious. He needed more time in the preschool class to prep[are] him for Kind[ergarten]. This was his 3rd year of pre-kindergarten but still I feel he is not ready. —White female family member of a child with low vision with additional disabilities, 7 years old

Recommendations

The challenges presented by not having preschoolers in their typical educational setting with trained professionals presents a burden on many families. It also places professionals in the position of having to develop strategies to teach young children with limited attention spans and ability to learn when they are not in direct contact with professionals. The following recommendations can assist families, professionals, administrators, and policymakers as they consider how to best meet the complex educational needs of preschoolers with visual impairments, especially those with additional disabilities or deafblindness.

Family Support

  • Families need clear and consistent communication that allows for both short-term and long-term planning for the child’s education throughout the 2020–2021 school year. Misinformation or lack of information adds to the stress families are experiencing.

  • Many family members appreciate the opportunity to connect with other families through formal means such as support groups and less formal means such as Facebook groups or periodic online sessions led by a family member without professional staff present. Professionals can encourage the development of support groups and less formal connections, then distance themselves once these are established.

Role of Professionals

  • Members of a child’s educational team must coordinate services and requests of families. Limiting the number of online sessions, lesson plans, requests to document progress, and resources so that families do not feel overwhelmed is imperative. Coordination will also result in a more cohesive program for the preschooler that is focused on the child’s IEP goals and developmental needs.
  • Most family members are not trained educators or therapists. They require clear directions and modeling with continued monitoring and praise. Professionals must recognize that families have many responsibilities in addition to the education of their child. Requests for documentation of child progress need to be realistic and fit with the family’s available time and resources.
  • In planning their sessions with preschoolers, professionals must keep in mind the developmental level and attention span of the student. For many preschool-age students, lessons that are 10-1515 minutes maximum are appropriate. Rarely is a one-hour long session appropriate at this level.
  • Preschool-age children benefit from social opportunities. Professionals may want to schedule brief online sessions for singing, dancing, story time, and other activities in which they can engage children with each other and take the focus off the adults leading the interactions. Involving siblings or other children in the household, if present, may be one way to support family members and model desired behaviors.
  • While O&M is much more difficult to provide through remote instruction, professionals can support families with ideas for creating safe and easily explored environments. Children learn through movement and interactions with their environment, which can be facilitated in the home with support and opportunities for independence. For example, children can learn the route from the front door to the mailbox and can explore the block around their home.

Considerations for Administrators

  • Administrators must provide professionals time to plan for students transitioning from early intervention to preschool services. This includes time for conducting assessments, developing IEPs, obtaining materials, meeting with the new educational team members, and supporting family members.
  • Administrators should support professionals in searching out and implementing service delivery models and tools that allow for meeting the unique needs of students, especially those with additional disabilities or deafblindness.
  • In the rush to deliver educational and therapeutic services to children, oftentimes, multiple platforms are being used by professionals. Administrators need to ensure platforms are streamlined, so that families and professionals have ideally one or two tools that they must learn to use. All platforms must be fully accessible to family members, professionals and, when appropriate, students.
  • Literacy skills development, whether traditional or using more of an individualized or functional approach, is a priority during the preschool years. Some families do not have readily available access to print books, braille books, teacher-made books designed to meet the child’s individual learning needs, or the accommodations/devices for children with low vision to access print materials. To assist these students, administrators may want to support professionals in setting up a lending library within the district, school, county, state, or province so resources can be shared.

Considerations for Policymakers

  • For students, families, and professionals to engage in online learning, everyone involved in the students’ education must have equipment that is accessible and reliable in addition to broadband Internet connectivity.
  • No student with a visual impairment should be denied advancement to kindergarten or the next educational placement solely on the basis of the interruption COVID-19 has caused in the delivery of services.
  • In addition, no student with a visual impairment should be advanced to kindergarten or the next educational placement without all the assessments, IEP development, and accommodations in place that would be there if it were not for COVID-19.
  • Policymakers must ensure that ongoing child assessment and instruction occur throughout the school year so that students do not regress and are making adequate progress in their educational program in spite of changes in educational service delivery due to the fluidity of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • In the United States, policymakers must adequately fund preschool services at appropriate levels to allow for the purchase of necessary materials, technology, and additional resources needed by educational staff and preschool children.

14. The mean (M) is derived by averaging the participants’ ratings—from “Strongly disagree” (1) to “Strongly agree” (5). The larger the standard deviation (SD), the greater the spread from the mean of the participants’ ratings.

15. https://day2dayparenting.com/childs-attention-span-long-able-focus/