Navigating a school’s special education system can be tricky, and sometimes well-meaning efforts still allow students with special needs to fall through the cracks. When children with special needs are homeschooled, they get the benefit of teachers who really know them. Also, there are many types of individualization that can occur in a homeschool environment that would be more difficult in a classroom where the needs of 25 students are vying for a teacher’s attention.
That being said, special education teachers do have access to training that many times parents don’t easily have access to. It is important to try to learn and incorporate what is known to be effective when instructing children with special needs.
Below are just a few benefits when choosing to homeschool your child with special needs:
Exceptional Learning Space & Limited Distractions
Classrooms are very busy places, between the other children and all the things hanging on the walls it’s hard for students to focus. When you homeschool, you have control over the space where your children learn. Creating a space dedicated to homeschooling and that your children identify as the place to focus on learning can go a long way. This space should be organized to help create organized minds, especially for those challenging subjects. And you can always take learning outside or to an alternate setting when you feel your child needs it.
As a parent, you know your child best. If you have a solitary learner for example, you might want to set a learning space with limited visual or auditory distractions. You can also include alternate seating (i.e., a desk, a comfortable chair, a rug), adjust lighting and temperature or anything that maximizes their unique learning environment.
Don’t worry if you don’t have a space to dedicate solely to homeschooling. You can simply make temporary adjustments to the space that will give your children the best potential for success!
Taking Breaks & Transitions Between Activities
Some children with special needs find transitions between activities to be especially problematic. In a classroom, such a student may be lost in a period of confusion while everyone else prepares for a new activity. As a homeschool parent, you can create individualized plans for transitions that play on your children’s strengths. For example, you may choose to set a timer or sing a song to signal the proper duration for a period of transition. In any case, you will likely want to provide advanced warning that one activity will be ending and another beginning (like a “two-minute warning” in football).
Transitions also may be good times for brain breaks and movement activities. Sitting still can be very distracting after a while, and many students with special needs actually require movement to maximize learning. Consider playing a short game of Simon Says (crossing midline to activate both sides of the brain) or having your children run a lap around the house. If transitions upset one or more of your children, you are uniquely positioned as a homeschool parent to help with the emotional side of those challenges.
Breaking Down Tasks & Directions
Homeschooling a child with special needs is such a rewarding and ideal solution for many families. Parents can take what they know about their child and design projects, papers, etc., and break them down into subtasks that best fit their child’s needs. If you are providing instructions for an assignment or test, separate the steps visually by numbering steps or adding bullets or checklists.
The same holds true when giving verbal directions for lesson activities, assignments, and tests. Provide one step at a time and teach your children how to gradually handle multi-step directions. You can take the time that may not have been available in a classroom setting to teach your children how to effectively break down tasks and verbal directions and create smaller steps and goals for completion when a larger task is presented.
Using Multi-Sensory Strategies
As a homeschool parent, you are the expert in knowing your children. Even without formal training in special education, you know what is likely to work based on your children’s strengths, preferences, and interests. You may be more able than a classroom teacher to incorporate multi-sensory strategies that will benefit learning because of the flexibility you have with scheduling and planning creative instruction.
Try to include as many sensory experiences as you can. Blend auditory, visual, and kinesthetic instruction and use physical cues (like a gentle touch on the shoulder) to redirect focus. Maximize the sensory experience by adding to lessons. For example, if you are reading Call of the Wild by Jack London, open the windows to allow winter air in the room or use a fan to cool down the learning environment. Simple teaching strategies like this can maintain the attention of your children with special needs by making the learning more engaging and memorable.
Providing Opportunities for Success
As a homeschool parent, you can create opportunities for your children to shine. Allow your children to demonstrate their strengths repeatedly, particularly at the end of a challenging day. Your children with special needs will struggle with some material, and those challenges will create emotions. They need to know that they are still successful young people with many strengths and abilities.
Strategies like those for organizing workspaces, limiting distractions, transitioning, and breaking down tasks will also be important when you consider how to help your child with special needs get a job. The more your child is involved in setting up effective learning and working environments, the more easily he/she will be able to choose, obtain, and maintain employment that fits his/her strengths.
Stay tuned for related blogs for homeschool parents of children with special needs. Learn more about how to plan, deliver, and assess instruction; how to provide effective feedback; and how to include additional content areas that may benefit your child with special needs!