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Engaging Homeschool Strategies for Your Child with Special Needs

written by Liz Matheis, Ph.D May 6, 2020
Engaging Homeschool Strategies for Your Child with Special Needs

This period of time feels a little surreal to me, as I’m sure it does for you, too. As parents, this is a time where we are balancing our work and home demands. While we are trying to maintain our employee status, we are also being given the responsibility of teaching our children through their subjects.

I know when I saw the pile of work that was sent home for my children, as well as the emails and Google Classroom notifications, I was most definitely overwhelmed. I had to find some way to organize the assignments and create some sort of order for each day. For my child with special needs, understanding her academic strengths and weaknesses, as well as emotional needs, hasn’t been easy for me, and my appreciation for her teachers is that much higher and deeper.

Our teachers are not expecting our children to work for the duration of the entire school day. However, it may be taking you and your child longer than the school day to complete a few assignments. My efforts have been met with tears, falling to the ground, and a fair share of yelling … on both of our ends. Now that it’s been some time, I have a few strategies to share with you that may save your sanity and help you to create realistic expectations for what a school day will look like for the next few weeks.

Take a Quick Read Through Your Child’s IEP

Although you are not a special education teacher (or maybe you are!), take a look at your child’s accommodations and get a sense of how work within the classroom is broken down for your child. This may give you a few ideas of how information is presented. If you’re still not clear, email your child’s teacher and ask her or him how you could teach your child a concept or how to work through the assignment. You are likely going to gain a few great ideas!

Break It Down

For some of our children, having your parent become your teacher is a mixing of roles and relationships. Understandably so! Your child may push back when you present work more so than she would with her teacher.

So, let’s get you through this. Break down subjects with specific times and specific time limits each day. For example, your child’s four major subjects, regardless of age or grade, are science, social studies, math, and language arts.

Based on your child’s tolerance and endurance, you may wish to try this approach:
  • Each class will last 30, 45, or 60 minutes.
  • Decide on the time before you begin.
  • Set a timer.
  • Teach three subjects per day.
  • Rotate the subjects so that one subject is being “dropped” daily.
  • Break down tasks into parts. For example, if your child is assigned to write a paper, break it down into its parts: an introduction, paragraph one, paragraph two, paragraph three, and conclusion. You may wish to work on one to two parts each day.
  • Work on five or 10 math problems at a time.
  • Take breaks in between subjects; decide the maximum amount of time that will feel relaxing but not too relaxing where re-engaging becomes too difficult. Set the timer again.

Turn On a Video

When my son’s eyes start to roll into the back of his head or when he falls to the floor in tears, it’s time for a video. My go-to is Kahn Academy. Although the voice of the instructor can be a little drone, the instruction is solid. Sometimes, I watch it first, watch it again with my child, and then I can explain the process or concept.

Keep it Visual

When in doubt, go visual! Keep a small or large whiteboard nearby and draw an outline for a paper using the spider method.

Print a picture or play a video of a historic battle, or a science concept. Osmosis, for example. What the heck is that? The definition sounds complicated, but if you take out a sponge and a cup of water, the hands-on visual will help your child understand the concept with greater ease.

Moms and dads, we are all in this together. On top of being employees and parents, we are also teachers for now. We will get through this together.

Please share the strategies that have helped you and your child get through a day of homeschooling here. You are doing your very best and that is good enough.

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