Monday, November 14, 2011

Blind Unschooling

For a long time, I was a very reluctant homeschooling mom. Homeschooling sounded frustrating, difficult, and exhausting. Bloggers complained about feeling constantly behind and overwhelmed; the curriculum that I examined showed lists and lists of supplies to gather and messy activities to do.  I imagined the constant conflict of sitting my strong-willed daughter down at the kitchen table and forcing her to do endless worksheets.  That struck me as a battle I simply didn't want to fight. I have a pretty strong will myself, so I didn't doubt my ability to do it, but just because I could did it mean I should?

Then, I stumbled upon a blog called Nurtured by Love while searching for Suzuki violin stories. The joyful learning experiences Miranda described did not fit at all the picture I had of homeschooling. I researched more, read more... The more I read about Unschooling, the more it looked like exactly what our family needed.  Learning that was spontaneous, joyful, and exactly on my kids' learning level looked like such fun compared to forcing ourselves into an arbitrary schedule and curriculum, written by someone who did not even know my kids.  Digging up resources together like a treasure hunt looked easy compared to assembling pre-written lists of supplies.

Just as I assumed I would not be homeschooling the other three kids, I assumed that Abi would need the services of a public school TVI (teacher of the visually impaired). She has almost no usable vision, and somewhere in the back of my mind was the idea that you simply are not allowed to homeschool a special-needs child. Once again, my constant hunting for resources on the internet paid off. I found and joined a listserve called Blindhomeschooler, which turned out to be the most fantastic group of parents, both parents homeschooling blind children, and blind parents who homeschool. The second group turned out to be nearly as helpful, since I have been homeschooling for several years now with low vision. I read every email that came through the list with growing excitement that I can indeed teach my blind daughter at home just as successfully as my sighted kids. That doesn't mean I will never use services from the state or school district. Quite the contrary, we'll do whatever is necessary to give her a full education. Rather, I realized how much I can truly offer her at home.

Perkins Electric Brailler

For starters, Last year, I finally obtained my Braille transcribing certificate. What this means for Abi, is that I can teach her to read in the same organic manner that I have taught the older two.  I can surround her with books that she can read, both purchased at sites like Seedlings, or fabricated myself.

Bananagrams tiles with braille

To teach the other kids to read and spell, we made good use of the Bananagrams letter tiles.  Now, it was an easy matter to add Braille to each tile using clear Dymo tape. The other kids had great fun with this, and it was a beginning to their own mastery of Braille in order to read with their sister or write her notes.

Purple rhinestones in a swirl pattern around a white cane

Stories by parents of blind children who are having trouble with motivation to use a long white cane prompted me to buy some lovely little rhinestones at Michael's to bling out the Kiddie Cane that I got for Abi. I have hopes that the "pretties" for little fingers to feel and for friends to notice will make the cane a fun accessory instead of an awkward piece of equipment.

handpainted foam puzzle pieces

Of course, our family does tactile projects already. Foam puzzles, wooden toys, clay, playdough, pipe cleaners, beads, dominoes, dice, dollhouses, LEGOs... the list of accessible projects around the house seems endless.

child-sized violins and a mandolin hanging on a wall

Although it seems clich√©, music often appeals to blind kinds, and I know already that Abi loves to sing.  She is in luck with our family, as we have available a wide range of instruments, including a piano that's open for little fingers to try any time.

iPod Touch sowing the app I Hear Ewe

A good tool that I've discovered from my own experience with low vision is the iPod Touch.  Not only does VoiceOver make it completely accessible right out of the box (yay, Apple!), but the list of apps that sing, read stories, or make sounds grows daily. 

Leapfrog Baby Tad

Even now, while she is still in the orphanage, I know she is learning to count, learning words in English, learning to sing and clap and dance.  While we were there, another parent donated a Leapfrog Baby Tad that Abi immediately latched onto, listening to the little songs over and over, and enjoying the flashing lights.  We gave them the rest of our travel stash of batteries, to keep it going a little longer.

Gathering resources seems like a good way to stay busy while I wait for her to come home.  I know from schooling the other kids that once she comes, I'll be a lot busier using them, and have less time to gather them.  Also, each fun educational toy that I collect, or message board or blog that I read makes it seem more real, that she really is coming very soon, and we'll dive into learning together (slowly, as she learns to love and trust us).  Like the other kids, I have no idea how much "regular" school her future holds, but I know that we have a lot to give her right here in her new home.


  1. I had assumed all along that you would teach her at home, knowing your braille certification. I'm actually surprised you were thinking you would have to send her to public school. I'm glad you're open to that option if needed, though. We each do what we need to in order to best care for our children. Love you!

  2. I'm sure that you'll do a wonderful job with her. She's so blessed to have you and your family along with you giving her even more educational opportunities than might be available to her through just a public school.

  3. As a homeschool mom I can completely understand your logic, both in hesitating to homeschool the embracing it. I will tell you that the TVI with the school actually told me secretively how she approved our situation.