Homeschooling parents are known for their dedication and creativity, especially when helping their children with learning challenges and special needs. Unique circumstances like attention deficit disorder, autism, dyslexia, and dysgraphia all benefit from creative educational experiences that homeschooling can supply.
Sometimes learning challenges are present without a diagnosis. A child may struggle with schoolwork in general or in a specific area. Learning to read may be a challenge. Sitting still may be agony. The curriculum that worked for one child may bring another child to tears. Parents may notice that certain subjects or tasks take more time than expected. Sometimes it isn’t clear what the exact learning challenge is, but the parent recognizes that this student’s frustrations with schoolwork require extra creativity.
Home makes a wonderful environment for learning. Homeschooling parents are pros at understanding the needs of their children while seeing beyond labels and viewing instead a dearly loved child. Parents know each child is a treasure, and they work ceaselessly to help their children thrive by providing unconditional love and unending support even when special needs are hard for both the child and the parent.
With the understanding that children can thrive in unique circumstances, there are many, many ways to provide an exceptional learning environment. Here are a handful of helps for when special needs are hard:
- Set simple goals, focus on progress over perfection, and celebrate small wins.
- Take breaks. The school day can be daunting for a child with special needs. Break a lesson into three or four brief increments throughout the day so the child isn’t overwhelmed.
- Remember that learning doesn’t take place only during school hours. Take note of the ways your child is learning in other areas of life and be encouraged by progress.
- Be on their team and let them know it. You both have the same goal.
- Teach to the child, not to “grade level.”
- Help children feel successful. For a struggling reader, provide plenty of books just below their ability so they feel a sense of accomplishment. Add in small portions of challenging material and ease them through it.
- When learning tasks are especially challenging, be the help for them when special needs are hard. It’s okay to read a passage out loud to your child when tears are present.
- Discern what is actually important. The science curriculum may come with a lovely journal for your student to record work in, but if the journal is a burden and your child is able to demonstrate understanding by articulating what the lesson was about, the journal may not be serving the child well.
- Look beyond difficulties and see strengths. Your child may struggle to put words on paper, but perhaps his artwork brings joy, or maybe he has the ability to program a robot. Your child may struggle with friendships, but perhaps she thrives with animals or is a caring big sister. We are all created differently.
- Keep lessons pleasant and end before you lose their attention and before there are tears from either of you.
- Remember that learning at home supplies the ideal opportunity for one-on-one attention.
Try Something New
A curriculum choice that worked well for one child, may not work for another. Adapt as needed for each child. SchoolhouseTeachers.com is a unique curriculum source, providing self-paced lessons. If a particular course isn’t meeting your child’s needs, simply try a different course. There are over 400 to choose from. SchoolhouseTeachers.com includes special needs resources for parents to access.
Dyslexia Gold can help children aged 4–16 as well as adults. It’s an online program that students can employ daily to help with reading, spelling, and memorizing the times tables. Max Scholar incorporates the Orton Gillingham method along with a multi-sensory approach. The result is a powerful reading intervention program designed to help kids and adults with learning deficits such as dyslexia, autism, ADHS, and auditory processing disorders create new pathways in the brain. Memoria Press is another curriculum choice to consider. Simply Classical Writing Book One and Two are part of the Simply Classical Special Needs curriculum materials offered by Memoria Press.
Consider Games and Breaks
Set the stage for success by starting your school day off with a simple five-minute educational game. A few minutes of fun together sends the message that your relationship with your child is high priority. Keep simple games on hand and in mind to employ throughout the school day when frustrations peak. Learning can require a lot of effort for kids who have a special need. That effort can make them tire easily or produce tears, which are both clues that a break may be in order. Reconnect and recharge.
Here’s a very unique approach that some children may respond well to. Read about one mom’s creative experience in “Using Virtual Worlds in Your Special Needs Homeschool.”
See the Strengths
Be encouraged by a child’s strengths rather than focusing on their challenges. For example, a child who is a challenged speller or writer who struggles to put words on paper, may actually be an excellent storyteller who needs your help. You can be the scribe who captures the story he’s telling and record it for him. Later, as an older student, he could incorporate talk-to-type technology. A student with suspected dyslexic challenges can use read-back features to listen to their own writing to notice words they missed.
The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine includes the topic of special needs in every issue. Search for articles in the digital magazine library by specialists like Dianne Craft or Leigh Morrison, or search for articles by typing in words like “dyslexia” or “Asperger’s.” Discover, too, how other homeschool moms handled challenges.
If there are other children without special needs learning in your home, give thanks for the ease with which they learn. Give thanks for their strengths and independence that allow you to focus on special needs. God does not make mistakes; He placed the exact right mix of people and personalities that He intended for your family.
Special needs don’t necessarily mean that college is out of the question. One family’s experience as recorded by a mom who sought a diagnosis for her high schooler may inspire others.
Remember the Goal
We are all here to glorify the Lord. Parents can glorify the Lord in their teaching and help their children glorify the Lord by thriving and reaching their highest potential.
Whether you are dealing with a diagnosis or dealing with daily tears, may God bless you as you seek creative approaches and discover new ways of helping your child excel in your homeschool.
“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9–11 NIV).