You pulled your child from traditional school (or maybe you never started at all) because the environment just wasn’t suited for their needs. Now you’re at home, learning together, all the time. You’ve started noticing little things preventing your child from focusing and truly showing their abilities. It’s so frustrating!
Easy Homeschool Hacks for Kids with Special Needs
There are simple ways that you can 100% change your homeschooling story.
Some of these are adapted from the traditional classroom – but only because they work! As with all things homeschooling, do what works best for your child today. Try things out, make some tweaks, and keep on learning together!
Task List or Schedule Chart
One thing that trips a lot of kids with special needs – as well as typically developing kids – up is keeping things in order, knowing what’s next, and anticipating changes.
Making a simple visual schedule helps children feel settled and in control. They can see their week, day, morning, or even their current task.
You can adapt traditional classroom tools to DIY your schedule! Grab a hanging single strip calendar organizer with clear plastic pockets and some schedule cards or sentence strips. Write out things that you do in your homeschool regularly. Think subjects, special activities, breaks, etc. For pre-readers, you can use pictures printed online. For older kids who can tell time, include a time. You can just add this on the spot with sticky notes or use a whiteboard marker.
Hang your daily schedule in your learning zone or a prominent place in your home. To make a change in the schedule, just swap the cards around. If your child can’t handle a full day of things to do, keep it super simple with just the first 2-4 activities.
Your child will be able to anticipate what’s coming up and feel more confident flowing through the day.
Above the Line/Below the Line
Everyone has things they’d prefer to do, especially kids. For children that push back on learning one particular subject or doing a certain activity, an above-the-line/below-the-line chart helps.
It’s a contract between you and your child. If they can commit to completing 2-4 items of “must do” work, then they can reward themselves with a preferred activity from below the line.
For example, my child must complete Daily Language, one math lesson worksheet/activity, and clean up any learning materials used. Then, she can grab a book to read together, choose an educational show to watch, or enjoy free time with the music of her choice.
Showing the reward for positive, productive work on non-preferred items is a super motivational tool.
Make your own chart by laminating a piece of construction paper. With a permanent marker, draw a line about ½ to ⅔ of the way down. Above the line, draw as many lines as work items you’d like your child to complete, numbering each line; every day, write in your child’s “must do” work. Below the line, using a whiteboard marker, write out the rewards available each day. This keeps things adaptable. Simply erase yesterday’s work and rewards to have a clean slate!
Chunking Work for Success
Plowing through all your work in one big learning session does seem like the most sensible thing to do sometimes. Unless it backfires and you’ve got a meltdown on your hands before half the things are done.
Instead, try chunking out your working time. Work for 5-10 minutes, then take a break and do something else. This is a great time to do physical activity like yoga or “heavy work” – squats, pushups, etc. You could also put on soft music and dim the lights to meditate. Having a healthy snack is another great option!
Building in breaks helps the work seem more manageable. These breaks shouldn’t be super long. Just a few minutes, about 3-5 minutes, is usually enough to reset.
There are two ways to handle the work chunks.
Work in 5-10 min blocks, continuing with the same task/subject/project until complete before switching to a new task or subject.
Work on one task for 5-10 minutes, take a short break, then start a new task or project; whatever you get done in each working block is considered good enough for today; you can continue with the same assignment tomorrow if needed.
Sensory Tools to Stay Focused
Ever notice that your child calms down when they’re holding a certain blanket or bouncing on an exercise ball? Use it!
Try these simple sensory hacks to help your child focus:
Velcro strip: attach a small piece of Velcro – either one side or both sides – to your child’s primary working space; your child can stick and unstick two pieces of Velcro or rub their fingers over their preferred side (rough/soft).
Exercise ball seating: for kids that wiggle, sit them on an exercise ball – either on its own or as part of a chair system; balancing or bouncing keeps their body engaged, works out the wiggles, and helps their mental focus.
Squishy things: use a stress ball, slime or other squishy things to help your child focus; your child can manipulate the squishy as they work – providing a calming and focusing effect.
Resistance band chair: stretch a heavy resistance band around the front two legs of your child’s chair; they can rest their legs on it to swing back and forth or push down against the pressure.
Fidgets: slide beads along a rope, play with a Koosh ball or fiddle with a small car – fidgets can help your child keep their mind more focused by providing movement.
Get creative! Use what your child already loves; offer a preferred object as a reward or to hold/use while working.
These three simple changes can make homeschooling a child with mild to moderate special needs, like ADHD, much easier.
What are your favorite hacks to simplify homeschooling a child with different learning needs or styles?
(Are you looking for academic advising or online courses for your special needs homeschool student? Check out all of our services at True North Homeschool Academy.)
About the Author:
Meg Flanagan, the founder of Meg Flanagan Education, is a teacher, mom and military spouse. She is dedicated to making the K-12 education experience easier for military families. Meg holds an M.Ed in special education and a BS in elementary education. She is a certified teacher in both elementary and special education in Massachusetts and Virginia.
6 Quick Fixes for Common Teamwork Mistakes: Teamwork can take you farther faster than working alone or independently. Families are teams, as is your local homeschool group, athletic club, and your church. Teaching your kids how to work together as a team, how to both lead and follow, will allow them to enjoy the beauty of synergy- where working together can produce far more than working independently.
“Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.” ~Helen Keller
The value of working as a team is obvious, so let’s talk about some common teamwork “killers” and how to fix them!
Lack of self-awareness & lack of empathy
Settling on the First or Obvious Solution
Not Taking Time for Reflection
Doing it All Yourself
Lack of Self Awareness & Lack of Empathy
Not being aware of yourself and others, not taking the time or energy to try to understand another’s perspective, makes teamwork difficult as the group can easily organize around one person’s perspective.
Fix-It: learn to listen well. Seek to understand as much as you seek to be understood. Learn to be curious about others. Teach your kids to be interested as well.
Settling on the First or Obvious Solution
When teams (or families) get comfortable with each other, it is easy to assume we all know what we’re talking about. This can lead to confusion on many levels; good ideas may be overlooked.
Fix-It: learn how to appreciate, develop, and utilize the art of brainstorming. Encourage your team to do the same. Invite all ideas, without editing, including the absurd and politically incorrect. Set all judgment aside and generate as many ideas as possible. For even greater fun, set a timer and see who can produce the most ideas in the shortest amount of time!
In every group, there are extroverts and introverts. The extroverts will be happy to do all the talking – happy to be front and center of every decision. The introverts will be glad to sit back, stay quiet, and fade into the background. The problem with not giving equal time to both types is that everyone loses out, and synergy doesn’t end up happening.
Fix-It: give everyone equal time and take turns talking about ideas and working them out. Work on developing excellent communication skills by waiting for quieter members to speak up and teach the more exuberant talkers in your midst to spend time listening and hearing others on the team. Practice the art of not interrupting. Value the input of all team members
Without clearly defined roles and responsibilities, it gets easy to duplicate effort or overlook things. Roles and responsibilities allow people to take ownership, make mistakes, and problem solve.
Fix-It: be clear about significant roles and responsibilities: who does what, under what circumstances? Positions may change according to age, gender, skill, and project. For example, the roles for making Thanksgiving dinner will be different than for finishing the basement, going on a vacation, or caring for someone who is disabled.
No Time for Reflection
Without clearly assessing how your team is working together (or not), it will be impossible to know if you are working as a team.
Fix-It: make time for regular assessment. Check to see how everybody is doing, what everyone needs, and how well you are meeting your objectives. Again, objectives will vary, depending on the vision, mission, and goals, ages, stages, resources, and skills. Regular assessments allow the team to adjust as necessary to gird up weak links, take full advantage of skills and abilities, and shift team members around for training as needed.
Doing Everything Yourself
Great teams have to work together- that means everyone is working. If your group consists of one person doing all the work, it’s time to train and expect others to do pitch in. As moms, it often feels easier to do it all yourself, but that’s a short-sighted view that won’t equip your kids or allow your team to work as effectively as it potentially could.
Fix-It: train your team to work together. Allow people to rotate from leadership roles. Let your team learn from mistakes and celebrate success. Look at the big picture and invest time in training – you won’t regret it.
Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken. ~ Ecclesiastes 4:9-12
6 Quick Fixes for Teamwork Mistakes. They are worth fixing as you are homeschooling, living and working together! As a homeschool family, your team may have additional challenges to overcome. Get more tips specifically for Using Teamwork in Your Homeschool. Working effectively in a group is a soft skill that is sure to catch the eye of modern employers. Learn more about tools and resources that position your homeschool student for career success at our Soft SKills 101 Podcast and become versed in how to teach the essential life-skills for our digital age!
Are you worried about maintaining your motivation for the school year ahead? I think I can help with a Principle named “Goldilocks”. The Goldilocks Principle states that, “humans experience peak motivation when working on tasks that are right on the edge of their current abilities. Not too hard. Not too easy. Just right.” 1.
Why? Because humans love mastering a skill just beyond their current abilities. In order to set academic tasks just there, you need to know what their current abilities are. Make sense?
Secondly, you need to set your kids’ tasks right at the edge of their capacity. Humans, big and small, love a good challenge. They want to be pushed. But not so much that the task seems unattainable.
Your kids are no different. They want tasks that don’t condescend to them by seeming too easy. They also don’t want to be given tasks that seem insurmountable and overwhelming. Constantly demanding that they work outside of their comfort zone will frustrate and demotivate them.
In order to really understand where your kids are at so that you can give them tasks and classes that are motivating, rather than demotivating, you are going to want to assess and evaluate your children so you can set better goals.
Understanding how to evaluate what your student already knows, setting attainable but challenging goals, based on the Goldilocks Principle, can help everyone stay motivated, regardless of what challenges come up this year!
— Lisa Nehring, True North Homeschool Academy Director
Here are some simple steps to take advantage of this powerful concept in your homeschool:
Make an honest assessment of where your kids are at. Humans love mastering a skill just beyond their current abilities. In order to set academic tasks just there, you need to know what your students current abilities are. The simplest way to asses is to observe your kids and understand their abilities.
Set yourself the challenge of gaining a good understanding of ages and stages. Resources such as The Way They Learn, orAges and Stages are a good place to start. Get clear about human and academic development, realize there can be wide variances in what is “normal” and get to know your child at a deeper level!
Set your kids’ tasks right at the edge of their current abilities. They don’t always want “fun.” Sometimes they want to overcome something really tough. Motivate them with charts, stickers, rewards and time spent with you. It’s not bribery. It’s reward for a job well done.
Customize your child’s learning. The beauty of homeschooling is that you can do just that. What will motivate one child will discourage another. By setting tasks for each child, particular to them, you are able to motivate each student.
Don’t neglect the teacher! One of the ways I’ve maintained homeschool motivation over the past 25+ years is to set challenges before me. How can I streamline the laundry cycle, eat healthier on a budget, learn Latin with multiple kids and demands? In other words, don’t settle for status-quo.
Assess or Test?
There is a difference between assessment and testing.
Assessment Is the systematic process of “documenting and using empirical data on the knowledge, skills, attitudes and beliefs” 2. with the goal to improve student’s performance.
A test is used to evaluate someone’s knowledge of something. It measures the skills or knowledge that have already been attained.
Both can be useful tools when it comes to understand how to motivate your homeschooled students. What do they know already and what is considered normal and attainable for this age and stage.
Of course, the beauty of homeschooling is that a parent can truly customize the child’s learning.
Understanding how to evaluate what your student already knows and setting attainable but challenging goals, based on the Goldilocks Principle, can help everyone stay motivated, regardless of what challenges come up this year (and c’ mon, isn’t that more normal than not?).
Understanding this powerful principle can change your homeschool for the better!
Utilizing the Goldilocks Principle for even one subject- say the most difficult one- can change your homeschool day, bringing motivation to the otherwise discouraged!
I’d love to hear what you think of the Goldilocks Principle!
Lisa Nehring has been married for over 30 years, has five children, 2 graduate degrees and a black belt in homeschooling. She has homeschooled since 1991 and wrote a Master’s Thesis on Why Parent’s Homeschool, including A History of Education in America. She is motivated by good books, strong coffee and finding God’s purpose. She is the director of the True North Homeschool Academy.
Browse By Class Category
SHOP FOR CLASSES
Spring classes enrolling now. Join the True North Homeschool Academy community today. Dismiss