Transitions can feel really big and scary for us as parent carers as well as for our children. With the start of the academic year just weeks away, a group of parent carers of visually impaired children met online to discuss how to support our children’s return to school. 

Below you will find:

  • Report and collated advice from the Parent Support Group session
  • Checklist style list of suggestions for primary school / new starters and secondary school / transitions, prepared by Jo Lomas from LOOK
  • Links to relevant resources from previous Parent Support Group sessions

Top tips on going back to school (Parent Support Group session)

Our Parent Support Group is made up of parent carers in different situations. In this session some had little ones about to start school for the first time. There were some who are managing the worry of the transition to secondary school, which feels like a big and daunting step. Others have children who are soon making the final independent step of going to university. 

With the help of LOOK Mentors Aliza and Zehra, we were able to pass on advice based on our own experiences and hear some great tips from other parent carers. Jane and Jo from LOOK, hosted the session and collated the advice to share to other parent carers. Please do pass this on! 

Top tips for going back to school

Raising awareness

Raising awareness early on, and communicating your child’s needs with staff at school and their peers is key. Ask your child what it is they want people to know about them, whatever age they are. You could make a video which is shared, write letters to the teachers, do a show-and-tell with their equipment. Our children want everyone to know what they can do, and also accept the different ways they learn and take part in lessons. Encouraging the school community / children to be more open to discussing and accepting differences will help your child settle and make friends.

Confidence in navigation

Being confident to navigate the school environment as well as the route to and from school makes a huge difference. It helps to create a level playing field for our children. At a quieter time, have your child familiarise themselves with key areas, including classrooms, outside space, lunch areas, toilets etc.

Checking in with your child

Establish a way of communicating about school with your child so that if things aren’t quite right you know about it and can help. This does not need to be a long conversation. Your child could draw a picture, send a text message, use a chosen object to let you know if it’s been a good or bad day.

Developing self-advocacy

In the long term, the more your child can advocate for themselves the easier their life will become. Your job is to encourage them to speak up and show that sharing the barriers they face is the first step for them being removed.

Giving the school time

Remember to give the school time to settle in before you raise concerns.

Prioritising what is important

As a parent we hold everything inside – tackle one little issue at a time and prioritise key things. Decide what you can let go of because it is not a perfect world. 

Having a positive outlook

Start the year with hope in your heart that the education setting wants to get things right for your child.

Thank you to everyone who joined the conversation and contributed. We hope you enjoy the last few weeks of the summer holidays with your children. Practising and preparation for the next step can help things feel less alien for you all. Enjoy going on the bus or walking the route to school perhaps? 

Back to school suggestions

Primary school children and new starters

  • Be positive and smile, use upbeat words.
  • Get back into a good school day routine at least a week early.
  • Practise the school run.
  • Encourage your child to help with lunch decisions and snacks for the week.
  • Lay out clothes and help or encourage them to dress.
  • Leave yourself plenty of time.
  • For anxious children plenty of detail can be calming. Talk things through e.g. ‘This is the way we hang up our coat…’
  • Find a peg on the row so it’s easy to find.
  • Find a fun way to say goodbye. A secret handshake, a bear hug.
  • Draw a little heart on your child’s finger so they know you are there. 
  • Tell them what colour clothes you will be wearing or where you will be standing, or step forward to greet them.
  • Ask the teacher to let them out a little early till they are more confident.
  • Talk to the teacher to keep communications open.
  • Ask if you can call just to check up on them for the first day (and be prepared in case the answer is no).
  • Brightly coloured labels in appropriate font size/Braille.
  • Ask about appropriate sitting positions.
  • Ask about sitting near the front in assembly.
  • Request hymn / song sheets in appropriate font / Braille
  • Teach your child to be open about their vi. It’s part of them and they are amazing!
  • Encourage school to explain to classmates your child’s needs and how they can be a good friend and help.our make a video if your child is more confident.
  • Ask for a buddy to help your child. 
  • Assistance in the playground and a place to go if they lose friends.
  • Appropriate marking on the playground.
  • Liaise with the teacher if things are working well.
  • Teach your child from a young age to advocate their needs.

Secondary School children and transition

  • Cement relationships in school holidays with children who will be in their form.
  • Encourage independence with the run up to the start of school, introduced earlier nights.
  • Practise school uniform and ties.
  • Leave plenty of time to get ready in the morning.
  • Find out if classmates are having school dinners or packed lunch.
  • Identify school bags by tying something around the handles.
  • Buy easy-to-recognise pencil cases, black pens, darker HB Pencils, larger rubbers and pencil sharpeners, larger rulers and protractors.
  • Learn how to navigate PE lessons and keep clothes in bag so they can be easily located.
  • Organise a place to meet a friend at lunch time.
  • Ask for more time to navigate from lesson to lesson. 
  • Arrange to leave five mins earlier for school bus home. 
  • Practise route to walk to school.
  • Arrange a place or who to go to if can’t find the right classroom.
  • Keep communications open with your child. Find out what has been working what hasn’t.
  • Arrange a meeting with SENCO after six weeks to work through any teething problems.
  • Ask for a further meeting to check that everything is working.
  • Teach your child to advocate from an early age, 
  • Ask LA to explain to all teaching staff and canteen caretakers about your child’s needs. 
  • Encourage bag packing for the next day and timetable modified to specific needs.
  • Talk to your child about what fears they may have.
  • Talk to teachers and advocate your needs. Some schools have never had a student with a VI.
  • Practise places you need to go. 
  • Establish a good relationship with TA and SENCO.
  • Have a conversation with teachers. Don’t feel alone, reach out when you can.
  • Participate in social activities. 
  • Join groups and after school clubs. 
  • Join choirs, school plays, projects in school, drama, theatre, sport. 
  • Talk to your child about any fears they may have. Choose language carefully instead of ‘What if’ use ‘You will!’

Additional resources

Also, check out other relevant resources in our free bank of Resources for Families. They are all available to view, copy, download or print.

Coming up: Parent Support Group – chat session on Monday 4th September

Our next chat session is on Monday 4th September at 7.30pm when you are welcome to join and share whatever is on your mind. These Parent Support Group chat sessions are a safe, positive space where we can talk with others in a similar situation, without feeling judged or out of place. If you are new to the group and have any questions or concerns about joining, please do not hesitate to contact Jane and Jo on Both Jane and Jo are parent carers themselves to VI children. 

Some feedback on the Parent Support Group session this week:

“Thank you. Great answers, Aliza and Zahra.”

“Really useful advice. Thank you.”

“Fantastic advice from the two Mentors today too. Thank you for your time this evening.”

“Thanks so much been very informative by daughter is starting secondary September so very anxious time for us but the back to school tips were very useful. I’ve made a list of things to make sure we cover everything.”