Our CVI Kids in the classroom

Classrooms….I used to think of them beaming with colour and creativity and millions of pegs hanging things up, crepe paper, coloured paper, bunting! Then there’s the smell of glue, and fresh paper…see how much stuff there is to take in?! Don’t get me wrong, I am not trying to be a Plain Jane/Party Pooper, I adore walking into my kids classrooms and seeing all their hard work. It’s pretty cute to see their work strung up with their very funny stories! But for a child who cannot process all that information, it can be overwhelming! As a mum you are torn between asking the teaching staff to take it all down and admiring everyone’s handy work. I have wrestled with this challenge for a long time and have come to the conclusion that if my daughter is to be in a mainstream school, then she needs to be surrounded by all the ‘normal’ things that you would find in a classroom.

An image of a child's classroom showing a large screen with images and bright coloured pages all around the screen.
Colourful classroom that suits children with no vision issues but for CVI kids, the clutter can be overwhelming.

To get Eva prepped for the classroom onslaught, a big CVI area we have focussed on is visual novelty. Having a younger brother who thoroughly enjoys having a mess around him, finding her toys in a mess has become the norm (Yes I do ask my children to pick up after themselves but what child always keeps their toy area tidy?!). We have worked hard in building up her visual novelty by having her favourite toy with her and adding in something new. When she has recognised the 2nd toy, we include another. And so on. Each time we ask her to find her favourite toy. Once Eva has built up with several toys, we then hide a small part of the toy under the others, slowly building up until most of the toy is covered under the other toys. Of course, there are days when she needs to switch to tactile mode and find it with her hands, and that’s fine. I have found myself at times getting frustrated at Eva when she won’t use her vision, we rely on our vision so much that it is so easy to forget how hard it is to TRY and use it when it’s not your primary sense. Not a great mum moment but I am human 🤷‍. Nowadays when Eva is searching for something that is scattered amongst the toy war-zone, she will do one of three things: 1. Use her vision to scan, and/or 2. start picking up a toy at a time, look at it, ID it and then put it aside and keep searching, and/or 3. if the clutter is not too overwhelming, she will find her toy straight away and grab it with precision. It’ s a great tool in getting her to ID items, especially if several items are made of the same material: instead of relying on her tactile sense, she has to look and think about what she is seeing. I personally think it’s a great exercise in using their vision whenever they are up for it, and we encourage Eva to use her vision at any opportunity, to the point where she is now starting to use her vision as a primary sense for a good portion of the day.

Back to the classroom…I draw the line at Eva’s desk being cluttered. As much as she can cope with some clutter, I don’t want to unnecessary overwhelm her. If I can control the clutter, then I will (especially at school when she needs to be switched on for the whole day learning and playing). When we walk into her classroom every morning, her desk needs to be empty. She needs a clean slate to work on. If there is stuff on her desk when we turn up, I remove it and then sit her down and show her what is on her desk, piece by piece. They generally have their name cards and sometimes a piece of paper to colour in whilst they wait for the bell. I remove it all and show her the name card and then the sheet of paper. Side Note: I used to always get frustrated when the teacher placed a piece of paper with a complicated imaged for her to colour – I would ask “can you at least outline some of the features in puffy paint?”, it never happened but I learned to let it go mainly because Eva wants to have the same thing as her friends and she thoroughly enjoys scribbling without puffy paint. Sometimes IT’S OK to not have EVERY SINGLE THING accessible. I know that many people will not agree with me when it comes to this issue, but it works for us.

One final thing to remember if your CVI kiddo is in a mainstream school, is that the smells and big bits of crepe paper and excitement is sometimes as much of a learning experience as learning how to deal with the clutter. Eva’s vision is enough that she can see there are heaps of things above her head, she has been told what they are, and she gets so excited when we enter the classroom every morning because she wants to show me all of her work (yes, every morning she wants to show me all her work, a bit like groundhog day 😂 ) – she LOVES it, and is so proud of what she and her friends accomplish each day. As CVI mums travelling through this journey, we get caught up on trying to make everything a visual lesson (I am like that) and sometimes, just allowing our kiddos to experience things like their sighted peers is just as important.

One final thought, if all else fails and you don’t know where to even begin, the following is a great starting point (and to continue using each and every day if you wish)

Image says, 5 tips for working with children with CVI. 
1. Understand and be sensitive to the child's visual world.
2. Develop familiar routines and activities
3. Offer visual stimuli (but not above) the child's level
4. Approach the child gently, with respect and homour.
5. There is no universal CVI program - each child is unique.

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