American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults
Future Reflections
       Summer 2021     TEACHING AND LEARNING

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The World Is Our Classroom

by Michelle Murrey

From the Editor: Living through a pandemic has transformed each of us in small and profound ways. In this article Michelle Murrey describes her family's choice to step away from the traditional school setting to discover a world of possibilities through homeschooling, bringing core curriculum and extended core curriculum (ECC) goals to life through daily adventures.

In 2020 the world changed. School went virtual. Employees started working remotely. Restaurants shifted from dine-in service to delivery. During the pandemic creativity, flexibility, and stability were critical to survival.

Just as the world experienced significant changes in 2020, so did my family. In early March we celebrated with family and friends to honor my parents' fiftieth wedding anniversary and my mom's forthcoming retirement. A week later everything changed. My daughter's Pre-K program closed. My mom's job ended abruptly. My work trips were canceled. We moved—twice.

Michelle Murrey’s daughter uses her cane on a walk in the park.

There was a lot of upheaval in our home, especially for my five-year-old daughter. We did our best to accommodate Zoom calls for occupational and speech therapy. We went to the park as much as possible, and we learned to be flexible with what a school day and workday meant.

In the fall of 2020, when it was time for my daughter to start kindergarten, we tried a virtual school option for a semester. It seemed to be an adequate option, but slowly I saw the energetic spark in her fade. Her frustration grew as she dreaded every Zoom call, every virtual therapy session. And my anxiety increased as I advocated for her needs in a new district that was simultaneously figuring out how to provide an education for thousands of children during a pandemic.

Taking stock of our family's situation at the end of 2020, I decided to discontinue the virtual school for the remainder of my daughter's kindergarten year. It was a gut-wrenching decision, because leaving the district meant that we lost all possibilities of receiving special education support. But our family's physical, emotional, and spiritual health was more important than trying to make the best of a difficult situation.

Although it was a daunting challenge, we took the plunge in January 2021, and we have not looked back since. It took creativity and networking to find the tools we needed, but we found a community of people willing to walk with us on this new adventure.

Homeschool offered the most appropriate fit for my child ever since she was three years old. She has the time to practice skills repeatedly until she masters them—in her own time. Opportunities to refine mental mapping, navigation, the use of cardinal directions, and cane technique abound. Daily life offers moments to learn math through cooking, technology through AI devices, Braille displays, and an iPod. Literacy comes through audiobooks, podcasts, and trips to the library that complement her interests. Science experiments occur in our bathroom sink, in flowerpots, on our deck, or along trails at the state park.

Michelle Murrey’s daughter uses a Perkins Braillewriter.Some days, PE class means my daughter riding her Micro Scooter for hours on our street. She learns to balance, brake, move backward, turn, and orient. On other days we go to the local park to travel the trails at my daughter's own pace, discovering stick forts, bird calls, and weather changes along the way.

Social studies involve reading books or listening to music from various cultures or playing with neighbors from Cameroon, the Philippines, and Mexico. We try new restaurants to explore foods from Greece, Mexico, Germany, and Italy.

Some days we go to the shopping mall and work on self-advocacy while interacting with shop employees. My daughter is learning money recognition, and she is highly motivated to pay for a chocolate-chip cookie independently. Riding escalators and elevators or noticing the ever-changing surfaces of carpet, tile, concrete, ramps, and stairs offers ample chances for her to explore with her long white cane.

Learning Braille looks different, too. Instead of a set time to work on Braille with a teacher of blind students, we have the flexibility to find literacy opportunities in our daily lives. For example, this morning, while my daughter ate breakfast, I sat next to her and practiced my alphabet on the Braille Buzz.

Some days I listen to the creative stories my daughter tells me while she runs her fingers across a page of Braille. While she is learning the building blocks of literacy, she puts together the elements involved in reading, writing, storytelling, grammar, and more.

Last Thursday we went to Costco. While waiting to make a return, we discovered an ATM that had Braille instructions next to the keypad. My daughter was fascinated to learn that the machine had money inside.

I often have to remind myself that my daughter has only had six years on this planet. There is so much that she has yet to discover. So it is good to go slowly, to savor the moment and let her learn through life's everyday events.

It is a privilege to work from home and have the family support to walk with us during this season. It is an honor to have the opportunity to learn alongside my daughter and to watch as the world unfolds before her. It is a blessing to have friends and colleagues who are willing to join the journey with us, offering tools, guidance, and resources as we learn to navigate this new path. The pandemic led us to make a choice that has brought us untold joy.

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