In a recent post, I shared how we originally made the choice to homeschool our oldest due to medical concerns. It was a difficult decision. I was terrified that I was not qualified to educate him. He is not neuro-typical. His learning style was completely different than mine, and I didn’t even know where to begin!
One of the most frequent questions I get about homeschooling is if it can work for a kid with special needs. The answer is yes! I think a lot of moms feel the way that I did. They want for their child to have the best education possible, they feel drawn to homeschooling, but they are worried that they aren’t qualified to educate a child who learns differently. I think any mom can go through this worry, but we special needs moms sometimes have a tendency to obsessively worry about the choices we make for our kids. We are so used to agonizing over huge decisions like surgeries, medical procedures, therapies, medications, etc., that we automatically agonize over everything.
Homeschooling is a huge decision, absolutely. But it doesn’t have to be a permanent one. If you feel drawn to homeschooling, the best thing you can do is just to give it a try! Public/private school will still be there if your trial doesn’t go well.
I can’t tell you if homeschooling will work for you and your kids. But after 18 months, I can say that it has been an astounding success for us. There have been so many benefits. Homeschooling is basically an in depth IEP plan. I can give both of my boys every accommodation they need. After years of IEP meetings where I begged for appropriate accommodations and services for my son, it is so refreshing to be the one in charge of that! We are just beginning this journey with our youngest, but my oldest son’s progress has been nothing short of amazing.
So let me share a little bit about what homeschooling looks like for us, by answering some of the questions I receive most frequently.
How do you know what to teach? I don’t know where to start! This is where a good curriculum comes into play. Truthfully, buying a full boxed curriculum isn’t strictly necessary. A lot of families homeschool quite well without one. But I use My Father’s World, and highly recommend it. The teacher’s manual gives me a day by day schedule, teaching instructions, project ideas, and supplementary book recommendations. The curriculum as a whole gives me a scope and sequence for each year. There are so many wonderful homeschool curriculums out there, and they really do teach you how and what to teach your kids if you don’t feel confident creating your own curriculum/scope and sequence.
How do you adjust a curriculum to work for a kid with special needs? Not to be a commercial for MFW, but this is another reason why I went with them. Their curriculum is based on a “family cycle.” What this means is that it is written for multiple levels/ages. The core work in the family cycle (history, geography, science, music, art, etc.) is written for kids from 2-8th grade, that way you can teach your children together. Each child then has their own level of math, language, and spelling. So the curriculum has book suggestions by grade level, and different levels of work included in one package. I love this for so many reasons, but I especially love it for my two boys because it’s so easily adjustable. It’s hard to explain exactly how this works without breaking open the teacher’s manual to show you (which would be violating copyright). But it’s actually really easy to do. I just eliminate the “advanced” assignments (that would really be for older grades anyway) and choose the assignments/readings that best fit my son’s level. Math, spelling, language, and writing are all ordered individually, which makes it easy to select the most appropriate level for each one. Math and spelling curriculums tend to have placement tests on their websites, so it is easy to give your child a placement test and know exactly what to order. With homeschooling, we don’t have to worry about a specific grade level as much as just meeting our kids where they are, and that is awesome. Both of my kids are working in multiple grade levels. Our curriculum makes that very easy.
With special needs, we just make accommodations. For example, handwriting is a serious struggle for my oldest. Despite years of occupational therapy, he still struggles to write legibly. Because of this, certain assignments in our language arts curriculum are very difficult for him. Our LA relies on a lot of copywork, which I strongly believe in. But for modification, I will typically only have him copy a short portion of the work. We use a special Handwriting Without Tears paper (as well as their curriculum for handwriting), and I’ll put visual prompts on his paper with a highlighter to help him with visual discrimination. These are easy accommodations to make, that I learned from his awesome occupational therapists. If you have a specific special need that you are wondering about how to accommodate for, please feel free to email me! If I don’t personally have experience with it, I probably know someone who does.
I’m not creative! How do you come up with all of those ideas to make it so fun? Let me let you in on a little secret. I don’t come up with any of those ideas. Sometimes friends see my Facebook feed with all of these fun school pictures and assume that I’m some super creative mom coming up with all of this on my own. Um, no. I don’t have the time or energy for that. Every single project or activity that we do either comes from the teacher’s manual or from my homeschool Facebook groups. Yes, there are Facebook groups for every year of our curriculum, and amazingly creative moms post wonderful ideas, lists, and resources. I mean, there is even a file in the group that has Netflix/Amazon recommendations for each unit! On rough school days, I just pull up that list. Yay, boys! Science today is Wild Kratts, season 7, episode 2! My personal creativity for our school is limited to searching for Youtube videos. 😉
How do you get your kids to focus all day? This is the beauty of homeschooling. It doesn’t actually take all day. Not even close. Learning happens all day, but focused instruction/bookwork certainly does not, and really shouldn’t.
We always start our day with physical activity. This usually looks like me sending the kids outside to ride bikes. If the weather is nasty, we do yoga or some other indoor activity. But no matter what, I don’t ask them to focus on school work until they have had some exercise and play time. Meeting their sensory needs up front pays off so much in the end!
After their initial exercise, we spend about an hour on the basics. For us, that means math, language, spelling, phonics (for my youngest) and handwriting. These are the most difficult subjects for us, so we do them first. That’s what works best for us, but I’ve heard plenty of other homeschooling families say the opposite. For some families it seems to work best to start with something more fun, like morning basket with readings and family studies. I tried this for a long time and personally love it, but it doesn’t work as well for my kids.
With the basics, I keep lessons very short. We only spend about 15 minutes on each subject, then move on to the next. This keeps my kids more interested. We may circle back around to the same subjects later in the afternoon if we are just rocking our work that day, but after that initial 15 minutes it becomes much harder for my son to maintain focus. So we switch to something different. I also try to make sure I’m asking him to do different tasks in each subject. Meaning, if language required a lot of handwriting, then we won’t immediately follow it with handwriting practice. We’ll do something completely different, like using manipulatives in math (different sensory input/different skill), before moving on to handwriting practice.
After we finish the basics, we head back outside for recess and a snack!
When the boys have worked off their energy, we move on to our core work. We don’t do every single subject every day, but our core work includes geography, science, art, music, reading, book basket, cultural studies, Bible, poetry, and any “special” studies we are including that day. We do these subjects all together, and we again try to switch up skills each time. So we switch back and forth between readings and hands-on activities or videos.
The amount of time we spend on our group work really does vary depending on the day. Assuming we don’t have any appointments, we go until their focus is completely gone. Sometimes their focus only lasts 30 minutes. Sometimes it lasts 3 or 4 hours and then I’m the one saying enough! If they are having an awesome day, we will usually cycle back and do extra in the basic subjects.
So each day really does vary quite a bit, which can be hard for us moms who like to have things planned out and scheduled! But I’ve learned to just let go and work with whatever day we’ve been given. Kids actually really love to learn. If I force them to do hours of sit down work when it’s painful for them to do so, then what am I teaching them? Some would say diligence, but I don’t agree. I want for them to always love learning, because then they will continue educating themselves for their whole lives. So I’m not just trying to teach them diligence. Diligence will come later. Right now, I’m teaching them to love learning, and I’m also teaching them how to help themselves learn.
As adults, we all have our little coping mechanisms to help us focus on difficult tasks. I’m personally reading a somewhat dry and heady book right now. I am motivated to read it and learn the material, but I find it difficult to maintain focus. So do I force myself to sit down at the same time every day and read a certain number of pages, even if I can’t focus on what it is saying? Of course not! I wouldn’t retain any of it. Instead, I try to read short bits when I am in the right frame of mind. I don’t try to read it when my kids are going crazy and wild, because I can’t concentrate. I wait until the house is quiet. I don’t try to read it when I’m sleepy, I’ll just fall asleep. I read it when I’m drinking my morning coffee. It’s the same with our kids. They need to be awake, focused, and in a good environment to learn.
And the thing is, it always works out in the end. It really does. Even with my super flexible schedule, we completed every single page of our curriculum last year. I think being flexible keeps us from burning out in the end.
This whole post is much more rambling than I planned, partially because my youngest is going through a no-sleep phase which means that I am quite sleep deprived right now! It’s difficult to write with clarity and focus when I’m sleep deprived. 😉 My brain just doesn’t function as clearly as I want it to, no matter how much coffee I drink each morning when he wakes me at 2 or 3 am! But that is my whole point. As an adult, I can’t do my best work if I’m tired, sick, exhausted, overworked, etc. Why do we expect kids to? Kids learn best when they are at their best. Kids need exercise, sleep, nutrition, and playtime in order to focus and learn. This is one reason why public school just didn’t work for my oldest. His tolerance level is low, and the strict schedule of public school left him exhausted, physically depleted, and constantly sick. When we changed the system, learning immediately came easier for him. I didn’t struggle nearly as much as I expected to in teaching him, because he was automatically in a better frame of mind to learn. His needs didn’t disappear, but he began functioning at his best. And when he was rested and eager to learn, he was able to teach me how to teach him.
The beauty of homeschooling is that we can give kids what they need. We aren’t limited to strict schedules, 30 minute recesses, insanely short lunch breaks, state testing schedules, state mandated curriculums, etc. We can be flexible. Routine and structure is awesome, but with kids, I now believe that flexibility is even more important. Blessed are the flexible, for they will not be broken. 😉 I think my son always had it in him to thrive academically, he just needed a system that worked for him. Homeschooling is it. He will always have special needs. His goals and progress will always be different than those of a neuro-typical child. But now he is reaching his full potential. It has been an incredible honor to watch him thrive.