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 the visual impairment and applying those skills to their studies and after-school activities. It’s important that your child begins to evaluate their own performance in order to move from one skill level to the next. Once your child has met their own standards, they will need to be challenged to meet the standards being set by classmates—with and without eye conditions. You and the teachers can encourage your child to strive for improving skills by giving realistic feedback on all efforts, helping to understand how your child is performing in comparison with others.
Your child needs the challenge of your high expectations for what will be accomplished in elementary school. Also needs to:
- Learn that they are expected to join in school and after-school activities
- Understand that being evaluated by teachers and classmates on academic work and behavior toward others is a normal part of going to school
- Expand social skills by learning how to communicate with others and be comfortable expressing ideas and feelings
In many ways, expectations and achievement are parts of a circle. When you expect your child to do well, they are more likely to do so. And when they demonstrate competence, you and others see them as accomplished. That reinforces confidence in 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 blindness or low vision 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.
- Helping Others Children who are blind or low vision 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 student who is blind or low vision to help a classmate with a task they have already mastered.
- 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 blindness or low vision 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.
- Independence You’ll find yourself paying more and more attention to your child’s growing independence. You want them to emerge from the first years of school as a fairly self-sufficient teenager who is responsible, curious, considerate, and eager to continue studies in high school and beyond. Independence is a skill like any other. It needs to be taught, practiced, and nurtured.
Manners A child who is blind or low vision can’t see, and therefore may not recognize, the effect their actions have on others. Because it’s hard to decipher unspoken disapproval or appreciation, help is needed in learning polite, thoughtful behavior in a variety of situations.•
Clothing sense Today’s 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 child will have to rely on both you and classmates for finding out what’s “in” and what’s “out.” This is a tricky issue.
Humor Encourage your child to see the funny side of things. 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 their visual impairment means they can’t participate in fitness or sports activities.
Dependability You and your child’s teachers should expect your child to become increasingly responsible —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.