Back to School: Educational Priorities for Children Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired

mom, dad, and son hugging

This year my oldest daughter, Madeline, will begin kindergarten. I’m already feeling the pressure and stress of teaching and pre-teaching all academic skills so that she is successful in the classroom. Maybe this stems from uncomfortable situations like hearing other five-year-olds reading, and knowing my child is definitely not there yet. So I choose to stop and settle down those green-eyed, pride-driven thoughts. I rein them in and tell them to “Go!” My child is my child, and her value is completely independent of the ability to read, solve math problems, or recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Besides, is academic success really all that is important?

Don’t get me wrong, academic skills are valuable and can be great tools for life. (Check out AFB FamilyConnect’s Literacy Resources for Children who are Blind or Have Low Vision and other important blindness-specific educational resources.) However, academic success isn’t the end-all-be-all measure of success and well-being for our children.

If academic success is not the primary learning goal, what then is the priority for our children to learn this year?

According to Foundations of Education (2nd edition, Volume 1, ch. 6 by Tuttle and Tuttle), “Much effort, time, and resources are directed toward the satisfactory completion of daily classroom activities and assignments. Often, this focus on schoolwork is made at the expense of other, perhaps more significant, aspects of personal growth.” Instead, the book describes, we should prioritize nurturing the whole child and his self-esteem.

These are the 5 ingredients for a well-rounded individual with a healthy self-concept:

  1. Self-Acceptance. Children need to learn who they are: personal interests, abilities, values, characteristics, etc. Children who are blind or visually impaired need to learn they have many qualities, only one feature is a visual impairment. (Not only is self-acceptance important throughout childhood, self-awareness offers an edge in employment.)
  2. Social Connectedness. Children who are blind or visually impaired need to experience positive interactions with others. (For more information on the topic, read Mary Ann Siller’s Advice on Social Skills.)
  3. Informed Choices. Children who are blind or visually impaired need to recognize they are in the driver’s seat of their life, especially as they mature. The ability to make decisions from an early age is imperative, and encourages responsibility. (For more information, read Making Choices: A Key Skill for Children with Visual Impairment.)
  4. Genuine Productivity. Children who are blind or visually impaired need to succeed in goals they find important. They will feel proud, motivated, and productive.
  5. Relaxing and Having Fun. Children who are blind or visually impaired need to have outlets for enjoying life and reducing stress. (Use CareerConnect’s Stress Management lesson series as a guide to teach your child stress-reducing pursuits.)

So I will continue teaching and pre-teaching academics at home because I want to help Madeline learn, not to satisfy my pride, and not at the expense of nurturing her whole self. In other words, I will focus on the five ingredients of a well-rounded individual instead of focusing only on her academic pursuits. Sometimes I need a reminder of priorities.