So, here we are on Sunday night – after a weekend of swimming in the pool, visiting family, weekend sport, Church, live performances - over and back to it. Monday – first day of the week at school. A new classroom, new teacher, teacher aides, new class of friends, fresh uniforms, clean shoes and new lunchbox. At this stage, the child is motivated to return (providing last week wasn’t too scarey). This week, the books might get sorted, pencils rationed and desk layout and groupings reviewed.
Now, the child with a vision impairment may not appreciate the change of desk so quickly, as it’s the closest one to the board. Has the teacher read the recommended notes on the child to understand where the best place really is for the best field of vision? Does the child have a particular friend that was intentionally placed in the class based on last year’s request? Is the nervousness still there from last week or some of the burning questions may now have been answered.
I hope that every child/teenager returning to school this week feels good about being there again and that considerations have been made in the teacher’s planning, considering the child’s learning style, providing an alternate format if required, to enable the child to participate. Establishing and confirming the preferred place to play at break times will enable the child to feel confident to go back to that area and make new friendships and learn of new opportunities within the learning environment.
So, it’s that time of the Australian year when the child in your family or neighbourhood returns for a new year of school. There has been quite a remarkable holiday period where pressures have reduced, morning routines abolished, sleeping in and the evening hours slower to conclude due to perhaps, the heat, the extended family staying over, the holiday movies on tv and just because….no need to catch a bus by 7am for another school day.
BUT the routine calls for those little people to head off for another year or for the first time, into the educational institution called ‘school’.
New ‘Preppies’ and first time ‘High Schoolers’ are probably those that may feel the most daunted on their first day of school. Both are moving into a new place, with lots of unknown people including teachers, planned activities set by someone new, new environments, different smells, different colors, sounds, and class peers.
Now, what if that child has a vision impairment and never been to that place before? Perhaps, the family have just moved to the area and there was no time for the child to get some Orientation & Mobility to the new school grounds, toilets or tuckshop. Mum or Dad can take them to class the first day, introduce themselves and their child to the new teacher but then, the child stays in the classroom and the parents leave till the return of the school day to pick up and find out whether the day ran smoothly.
Remember, the child may feel quite nervous about the new experience and quite anxious so the parents who might also feel nervous may have to keep that feeling to themselves. The child of course hopes that another child might say “hello”, be invited to sit next to them at lunchtime or show them where the toilet is. Remember the child with a vision impairment may have some difficulty locating their desk or table, and may need some direction. Depending of course on the teacher, they hopefully will be able to direct the child. Keep in mind, he/she may also be nervous about all the children starting in the new class that may also have particular issues, idiosyncracies, medical considerations that the teacher needs to process and cater for.
Support the child at the start and the end of the school day as it’s been a big adventure. We want all children to feel welcome and safe in all new environments but they also need time to learn the area, get to know others, know where their place is in the classroom and what they can do when it’s break time. If the child is fortunate to have some additional adult support on the first day, life may be less stressful but that person may be another new one to get to know.
I hope that every child/teenager going back to school this week feels good about their first day and that considerations were made for their learning style, their confidence, their alternate medium, their ability to participate, and their access to all places around the school where every child can have an opportunity.
Kerri Weaver is a service provider for children with disabilities.