Photo Caption: close up of hands writing on paper with pencil and person sitting at a desk working on a computer.
It’s back to school time around here and all week I’ve been sharing some of the strategies we use as blind parents to help us with the challenges of school life. Today I’m sharing some of the strategies we’ve figured out for dealing with homework.
After surviving years of daily, gruling endless hours of my own homework starting in junior high and finally petering off after grad school, I thought I was free of the homework albatross. . Think again…now I have my kids’ homework to do. Thankfully it’s still at a level that doesn’t require too much time or brain power for me…yet, but I know the late nights are waiting in the near future ready to torture me again in a whole new way.
Photo Caption: person holding an alarm clock
It’s hard to give strategies for every kind of homework situation, but here are a few quick things we’ve figured out so far with respect to helping our early elementary students which I felt worth sharing.
Communication with the Teacher
I could write a whole post on communication with your child’s teacher. It is imperative that you establish a good working relationship with your child’s teacher as you will most likely have to email them questions periodically or need clarification on something that is inaccessible to you and unclear to your child. Thankfully, our teachers so far have all been great about sending out regular emails in general to update parents on the goings on in the classroom. These emails often lay out what homework is expected of the students, or have links to resources online. If you don’t have a teacher who is good about sending out regular emails, I suggest that you speak to the teacher and ask if he/she would mind if you communicate in this manner with him/her; or find a method (i.e. phone calls, texting, in person meetings when you pick your child up, etc.) that would work for the teacher. This way you can feel open to ask for any assistance/clarification as needed regarding your child’s homework. For example, when my daughter was in kindergarten, her class started using online reading programs. These programs are mostly inaccessible to a screen reader, so it was challenging for my husband and I to help her with them. Thankfully, my husband is more patient and tech savvy than I am and he figured out a way to navigate the site after talking with the teacher to get a sense of what was being displayed on the screen at various points, and learning what was expected of the student while using the site. We were also able to ask the teacher to take a few minutes with our daughter at school to show her how to use a mouse since this is a very visual thing and hard for us to model for her at home since we are mostly full-time screen reader users. . I will admit that I did use a screen magnifier as well and was able to work more on the site with my daughter, but I would still need to turn it off when my daughter was looking at it so that she could navigate the site. This help from her teacher really made a difference and we were able to work through this situation until my daughter became more proficient at using the computer to work more independently. Online homework is probably one of the biggest hurdles for us as blind parents and generally, these programs are not very accessible. I have a post coming up in the future of some other challenges we’ve faced with this issue, along with some solutions we’ve found.
Signing Daily Logs
Most kids have some kind of daily log that they need to have initialed or signed regularly (i.e., a reading or practice log). There are a couple of things you can try for this. First, you could set up a daily email with the teacher wherein you report whatever info the log is designed to track. You could also use a signature guide and have your child place it on the box or line where you need to sign, or even just have your child put the pen on that spot for you to sign each night if there is nothing you really need to fill in, or it’s something that your child can fill in his/herself (teaching responsibility too. Another idea is to use a small stamp that would fit in this area. You could communicate with the teacher ahead of time to let him/her know that this is the method that you are going to use instead of signing and make sure that the teacher is comfortable with this. You may want to follow up with periodic emails as well letting the teacher know you are tracking your child’s work—just in case he/she is concerned about your child forging the stamp. It’s also a good idea to let the teacher know that you may not always sign right on the line, or your signature might not look as legible or identical each time because you are blind—just to make sure there aren’t any questions about your signing. . . (I have a whole post about a teacher who thought my daughter was forging my signature here.).
If the nightly correspondence is something like a homework guide listing assignments for that specific night, it may be helpful to have the teacher email this information directly to you each day. IN many instances like this, the teacher is hand writing on the log what your child needs to do, so it would probably not take them any more time to send you a quick email instead. If daily communication isn’t practical, you may consider asking for the teacher to email you the week’s assignments ahead of time so that you can track your child each night.
Even if your child has a text book or handout for their homework, supplementing instruction with manipulatives can be very effective. This way, you are able to use a method that is accessible for you and provide assistance to your child in a meaningful way. Brailling spelling words or times tables onto index cards are just two very easy suggestions. Math manipulatives can also be very helpful. For example, Saxon is a company that creates math resources for home-schoolers and they have great kits with a variety of manipulatives for teaching math to elementary and secondary students. With these, you can replicate what is on your child’s homework and use a hands on method to instruct your child, and your child can show you in turn what their assignment is asking. We purchased one of these kits (for grades K-3) a few years ago and find uses for it all the time. It came with things like a tactile clock for teaching time concepts, sorting objects for counting and grouping, tangrams, a peg board with rubber bands—useful for teaching multiple concepts, and tactile geometric shapes. We’ve used the kit so far to teach counting, addition, subtraction, sorting, grouping, place value and early grouping for multiplication—all along side our children’s regular learning. I never really realized until now how very blind friendly it has been and what a great idea it would be for other blind parents to invest in something like this kit to help your own kids. I’ll link to the one we use here for you to check out. .
Also for math concepts with older children, raised line drawing kits like those offered from the American Printing House for the Blind (APH) may be a good resource. One last tool along these lines which I’ve found very helpful is the Sensational Blackboard. This is a piece of flat material (kind of looks like a chalkboard slate) that lets you write on paper atop it regularly and “magically creates a raised image instantly. It’s a great tool because you don’t have to invert or reverse your paper. So, your sighted children can write or draw regularly and you can view the image directly. I would recommend this tool for teaching things like shapes, print letters, reading, and math concetps with your kids. It’s hard to explain how it works, but trust me, this is a very impressive tool, and worth a look.
For things like reading along with your child, you can find a lot of books electronically now days. Even a number of text books are available commercially. Downloading one of these and following along on a braille display or listening to synthetic speech with a headphone in one ear while your child reads along can be helpful ways for you to make sure your child is reading correctly. This way, you can assist her with difficult words or vocabulary without having to stop and ask her to spell the word to you which can often take longer, or make her feel frustrated. . Another great resource is the audio book section of your local public library. Because audio books have become so popular, the selections are improving so you may consider listening to one of these with headphones along side your child as he reads, or listen together while he follows along. One last idea regarding textbooks (if you feel that having a version would be helpful for you to help your child) is to just ask the teacher to borrow an extra copy and try to dust off your old methods for locating or scanning an electronic textbook from when you were in school.
Its hard to address every kind of homework situation that you will encounter, and this is by no means a comprehensive resource list. These are just some basic ideas that will hopefully help you and get you thinking of other strategies you can use to solve homework challenges. We’ve used a combination of all of these things. We are constantly trying and tweaking things for new tasks and new grades as my kids get older. The main take away is that you find what works for you and your family, don’t be afraid to ask for help from the teacher and the school, and lastly,if something isn’t working for you, don’t be afraid to think outside the box for an unconvential method.