Tips to welcome a child with vision impairment into a sighted class

Post date: 
Wednesday, 31 August 2016
Group of kids walking into school together

Sarah Holton, Children and young people’s officer at RNIB, explores how to help a child with vision impairment get off to the right start in a mainstream classroom.

The start of the new school year can bring lots of changes; new teachers, new classrooms, perhaps a new class or re-shuffled groups of children who need to make new friendships.
 
For a teacher welcoming a child with vision impairment (VI) into their class for the first time, we have some ideas about getting the term off to the right start.

Ask the experts

Have you had plenty of time to chat to the child, their parents, any previous support staff or teaching assistants and the specialist VI teacher from the local authority? Don’t feel that you have to reinvent the wheel because previous support strategies and resources will or won’t have been successful in the past.
 
It is worth talking about the summer holidays and any new skills or experiences that mean the transition discussions at the end of last term need to be updated or revised?

Happy talk

Have you established how you are going to communicate with home during the year? Will the parents have a message book or regular chance to talk to you? Sometimes having this in place can be reassuring both for staff and parents to know they will have a designated opportunity to make sure that everything is working well, rather than responding or reacting to specific issues.
 
Remember that both school and home need to share successes as well as concerns – if something goes well at school, make sure that the child and their parents can celebrate it too.

Get the room right

Is your classroom set up to make learning as easy, comfortable and safe as possible? Consider the lighting, layout and walking routes around your classroom. Talk to the child, their parents and a habilitation officer (whom you can contact through the specialist VI teacher) about any changes that might help the child to navigate safely and as independently as they can.
 
Has the child had plenty of time to familiarise themselves with your classroom when it is quiet and empty? Are there helpful touch cues that can be used as tactile signs? From the first day, children will want to know how to find their peg, the toilet and their own drawer. 
 
Talk to the class as a whole about how to keep the classroom safe and easy to move around. The children can be asked to develop ideas or rules about tucking in chairs, not leaving bags on the floor to trip over, making sure that doors are fully open or closed so no one bangs into the edge of an open door. (Wonder Baby has a great article called Bringing Blindness Awareness to the Sighted Classroom you might find helpful).

Supporting new friendships

If the child with VI is new to the class group or new to the school, you can support them in making new friends. Young people with VI tell us that having friends is the most important aspect of being happy at school. Being lonely, socially isolated or bullied will have a profound effect on the child’s overall wellbeing and also their ability to learn. 

You might like to have circle time or class discussions and activities to talk about hobbies, interests, pets, families, holidays or other topics that mean the children learn about each other and then can follow up in their own conversations.
 
It will be helpful if everyone in the class addresses each other by name first, so that it’s clear who is talking to who, and a child with VI does not miss conversation or instructions aimed at them. “Daisy, do you want to play outside?” is easier to follow than “Do you want to play outside, Daisy?”
 
Friendship workshops can work well, where children can think about what makes good friendships and how they can help people who are perhaps shy or find it difficult to make friends. 
 
Social inclusion is as important as curriculum inclusion, so make sure that this is as carefully considered as providing the correct formats, resources learning environment and curriculum materials. Try to take a whole-class approach, so that the needs of any one child aren’t singled out.
 
We have more information and resources about successful inclusion of children with VI:
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