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.
Meg regularly writes for MilitaryOneClick, Military Shoppers, and NextGen MilSpouse. You can find Meg, and MilKids, online on Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook and Twitter.
To get actionable solutions to common K-12 school problems, parents should check out Talk to the Teacher by Meg Flanagan.
Struggling Learners vs. Special Education
Many parents ask questions about the difference between struggling learners and special education. A struggling learner is working at or just below grade level. It might take them longer to catch on, they might need a few more examples.
When our children struggle with reading, writing, and math, it is sometimes hard to know what exactly is going on. Is it just this concept they are struggling with? Does math (or reading) come easy, whereas other things are harder? Especially if it is your first child and if you have never taught children before, it is hard to know how much help you may need or if you should just “wait it out.”
When our struggling learners are younger, it can be difficult to decide whether to seek help or not.
Dianne Craft, MA, CNHP, suggests considering the following things:
- At least 7 ½ to 8 years of age?
- Is the child a boy or girl? Boys sometimes take longer to mature and be ready to learn.
- Can your child say (not sing) the ABCs in order, differentiating L, M, N, O, and P?
- Can your child hold a pencil?
- When your child writes, does he reverse letters?
- Does your child have a desire, an eagerness to learn?
- Is a younger sibling catching on to concepts faster or catching up?
- Does your child like to be read to?
By around 10, children should be moving from learning to read to reading to learning. This means they should be able to read the words without much difficulty on age-appropriate levels and begin to build an understanding of what they are reading and learn from it.
So what about older kids who need some help? At what point should you be concerned?
Can your child:
- Look at a set of objects (or fingers) and tell you how many are there (without counting, up to 10)?
- Know math addition and subtraction facts or a quick strategy to solve them (not counting fingers).
- Know multiplication and division facts or a quick strategy to solve them (not skip counting from the 1x place).
- Understanding multiples and factors
- Understand decimals and fractions
- Tell time on an analog clock (not digital)
All children learn differently, and it is true that some children simply need time and repetition to be ready to learn certain concepts.
So when is it important to seek testing and/or services for struggling learners?
- When it will benefit your child to get them needed therapies
- When your child is preparing for a trade school or college/university that requires a current “diagnosis” for support
- When you choose to utilize services available from the local school district (this varies by state and district)
- When there are state services that are available to you with a diagnosis (such as audiobook programs available to those who have vision impairments or dyslexia diagnosis)
- To seek recommendations to better understand how to help your child learn (at these times, seeking out someone who understands homeschooling would be beneficial).
- Your child becomes overly frustrated by their limitations and struggles.
A Special Education student, however, generally has a specific diagnosis (Autism, Down’s, Intellectual Disability, severe ADHD or Dyslexia, and many others). These students generally are 2-3 grade levels or developmentally 2-3 years behind their peers in specific areas or across all areas.
When do I need to seek out a diagnosis?
When a parent asks me if they should seek out a diagnosis, I ask them to consider the following:
- Why do you need a diagnosis?
- What questions are you hoping to answer with a diagnosis?
- How would a diagnosis benefit you and your child?
A diagnosis might be beneficial if:
- You utilize public school services (some states allow this even for homeschoolers)
- You will be eligible for services or resources not currently available without a diagnosis
- You need a diagnosis for your state due to testing regulations
- You are preparing for college, and a diagnosis is required for needed accommodations for classes or testing (the testing usually has to be less than 3 years old going into college)
- You don’t know what to do or how to help your child, and you are looking for help in how to approach teaching them
- You know something is “off” or “not right” or a “problem,” but you can’t quite put your finger on what’s going on. The hope of naming your unrest will bring you some peace and hope to help your kiddo.
What do I do after I receive a diagnosis?
No matter how prepared you think you are going into an evaluation process, receiving a diagnosis comes with a mix of emotions. You are relieved because you discover something is going on (and you weren’t just THAT crazy mom after all). However, parents need to be prepared.
There is always a grieving process that comes with receiving a diagnosis. There will be anger, sadness, and doubt, and eventually, you will feel stronger and better equipped to help your child.
Here are some tips to help you through this process:
- Don’t make any immediate changes that aren’t necessary. Give yourself time to adjust before changing the educational setting (especially to homeschool from public school or vice versa), curriculum, or how you approach things.
- Educate yourself. Find some articles, a video, or a book to read on the specific diagnosis. Even if you know a lot about it already, it helps to see the information through the new eyes of KNOWING what is going on.
- Find some support. Facebook groups and friends are great places to start.
- Say some prayers. The road will be long and hard, even armed with a diagnosis. Prayers for understanding and peace go a long way.
How to find support…
One of the most important things to do as a parent of a child who struggles or has special needs is to find a support group. Friends who will pray with and for you, families going through similar struggles, and a good sitter are all important. Here are some great ideas for finding support:
- Church – a lot of times you can find support through a church. From support groups to an hour to be an “adult” on Sundays while your kids are in Bible Class can do a lot for how you feel the rest of your week. Talk with them about your needs and advocate for yourself and your child.
- Facebook groups – Not all Facebook groups are the same, but there are some wonderful ones out there. Some I recommend to parents:
- Friends – Find your “Tribe.” Friends who can understand and be the shoulder you lean on when things get tough. Parents going through similar situations are great because they are in the trenches with you. Being able to offer support at times can be beneficial too.
Struggling Learners and Special Needs students will take more faith, perseverance, and resources but be encouraged! There are more resources, books, conferences, and groups now than ever, including small group classes offered live online through True North Homeschool Academy. We also offer Special Needs and Struggling Learners Academic Advising. We would love to link arms with you as you seek out what’s best for your Struggling Learner or Special Needs student!
Original article written by: Amy Vickrey, MSE.
Amy holds a Master of Science in Education, Specializing in Curriculum and Instruction, from the University of Central Missouri and a Bachelor of Science in Interdisciplinary Studies from Texas State University-San Marcos. Also, she spent 2 years of college studying Interpretation for the Deaf and Deaf Studies and knows American Sign Language. Her teaching certifications include Special Education, English as a Second Language, and Generalist (early childhood through fourth). She is now part of the Struggling Learners Department of True North Homeschool Academy and loves the discovery approach to learning. Teaching children how to learn will help them reach their goals and dreams.
Back to Homeschool: Happiness or Blues?
We at True North Homeschool Academy are looking forward to starting our classes this Fall.
For many kids, the idea of going back to school is exciting – seeing old friends and meeting new ones, learning new things, and having new experiences! For children who struggle, back to school can mean embarrassment, having to explain things AGAIN to new teachers, and anxiety about possibly being teased.
Here are some truths:
- 13% of children in public schools were reported to have a disability and need special education services. (The Condition of Education, 2016)
- SPED Homeschool reports of up to 35% of students who are homeschooled have a special need or are struggling learners. (Global Trends in Special Education Homeschooling, 2018)
- Parents who homeschool students who struggle need specialized education and support to help their children be successful.
- This specialized support should look different from public school because homeschooling should not be public school at home.
Special Needs and Struggling Learners will benefit from our small, therapeutically based program. Our Teachers use cutting-edge techniques and tools to maximize your student’s growth and learning potential and classes are kept deliberately small to facilitate personalized attention. Smaller classes also decrease anxiety in students, allowing dynamic and educationally therapeutic interaction between parents and students. Our Bundles put you in control of your child’s education, but you’ll never be alone. We’ll support you. That’s what we do.
- Providing a sensitive, nurturing learning environment for students who have had less academic success, this course will also work on skill-building. We will be focusing on breaking down larger, everyday tasks to make them more manageable. We will be discussing how to create their own personalized daily routine. The students will also be able to improve their day-to-day school and family life as we work in the following areas:
- making schedules
- creating a personal calendar
- creating short, effective lists
- tips to help our memory
- understanding how our actions affect others
Executive Functioning Skills is designed to create a stress-free approach to academic learning. Homework assignments will be brief, and they will mostly be about habits that they can create to make life easier. There will be an emphasis on growth, not grades. There will be no tests, no essays, and no memorization required. This course is about self-improvement and growing as an individual.
History and Science
- Adapted Science
- Adapted Science Skills for struggling learners is designed for unique children wanting to shine and explore the science of the everyday world while learning things like Kitchen Chemistry and Biology as well as Physical Science. Each lesson will incorporate vocabulary introduced in an applicable and hands-on environment- while empowering students to learn differently.
- World History
- Adapted World History for Struggling Learners offers 100% supported learning for unique students. This World History course imparts high school level content at a lower reading level. Using an adapted textbook, film, and other sources, the educator will read every page with your learner and encourage discussion, question your learner for comprehension, and offer explanations that will assist in the development of vocabulary and critical thinking.
- U.S. History
- Adapted US History for Struggling Learners offers 100% supported learning for unique students. This US History course imparts high school level content at a lower reading level. Using an adapted textbook, film, and other sources, the educator will read every page with your learner and encourage discussion, question your learner for comprehension, and offer explanations that will assist in the development of vocabulary and critical thinking.
- High School Spelling and Grammar
- Organize Your Writing
- Organizing Your Writing is a course for struggling learners that will focus on teaching students in high school who are struggling with organizing their thoughts and writing to complete academic papers. Students will learn the basics of simple essay writing in a non-stressful environment. Sometimes our struggling learners struggle to write a complete sentence. Sometimes they can tell stories but not put them down on paper. Other times, they can write informally in journals and free-writes, but can’t organize an academic paper. What is the solution? True North Homeschool Academy’s Struggling Learners Department is now offering a writing class to help students learn how to write academic papers.
- Organize Your Writing II
- Organizing Your Writing II will focus on teaching students in grades 6-12 to write with competence and ease. Different forms of writing can be a hard and frustrating task for struggling students. This course will help students approach their drafts and published writings with confidence. Students often need encouragement and guidance to articulate their thoughts while expressing ideas on paper. Students will learn the basics of simple essay writing in a non-stressful environment.
- Adapted English I
- Adapted English provides 100% supported learning for unique students, this course will also provide grammar review, and paragraph writing development for real-world writing skills such as “How To” paragraphs and paragraphs that tell a story and will further strengthen reading comprehension and vocabulary development
- Adapted English II
- Adapted English 2 is for struggling learners and is designed with lower-level readers in mind. This class is a continuation of Adapted English I for students who are working through High School at a much slower pace and need additional instructional support. The textbook selected is respectful of the maturing mind and offers exposure to appropriate reading material at a 4th-5th grade level that nudges vocabulary higher, and touches on literary analysis with exposure to topics such as metaphors, imagery, plot development, and setting.
- 1:1 Personal Zoom Meeting
- Personalized IEP (Individualized Educational Plan) Goals
- Personalized accommodations and modifications
- Personalized Curriculum Help
- Personalized recommendations for grading, instructional strategies, and visual aids (if needed)
- Transcript Consultation as needed
Back-to-School does not have to be a time of pain and despair! We can equip you with the tools you need to succeed, starting with 5 Effective Communication Strategies to use with your special needs child or struggling student.
Additional support can be found in our Facebook Group for parents of struggling learners.
And don’t forget to take care of you, too.
Dyslexia Outside the Box
Dyslexia Outside the Box by Beth Ellen Nash is so hopeful! I can still remember the day the testing results came back. I was looking at all of the scores, trying to interpret what I saw from an educator point of view while knowing that this was my child. Normal, normal, lower than average and then the diagnosis of…dyslexia. It was like a punch in the stomach, and yet a strange relief. I felt like crying, and then a huge weight was lifted all at the same time.
It is so hard when you have always known. You recognize something, but people tell you that you are seeing things. There are other delays, most notably with reading and retention as well as with writing and comprehension. Comprehending the sounds of words has never been easy. While my youngest daughter was a late talker, her older siblings were quick to mimic sounds and words as babies and toddlers. We aren’t supposed to compare our children, but we do. For each milestone our children reach, we rejoice. And when some of those milestones don’t come? You question.
I am an educator. Before I became a mother, I was teaching and caring for children. The programs I worked in were often preparing children for school and what would come ahead. It wasn’t abnormal to have a child walk out of the classroom I worked in ready to enter kindergarten. Yet, when it came to teaching my youngest child, nothing really stuck. I thought it was me, so I put her in preschool. It still didn’t click, so I put her into Kindergarten. The first day she came home she had two complaints. “I can’t read and naptime wasn’t long enough. I don’t need to go back.” We finished that year and then I began to homeschool. Progress was slow, but there was progress. I knew for sure that what was happening wasn’t quite right.
Why did I need the diagnosis?
I guess I didn’t, but I needed to know it wasn’t all my fault. It wasn’t that I wasn’t trying, but I wasn’t teaching her in the way that was right for her. I had strategies, but they weren’t working for my child, despite the successes I had with children. Dyslexia Outside-the-Box gave validated what I knew intuitively.
Enter Dyslexia Outside the Box
Reading Dyslexia Outside the Box by Ellen Nash was so helpful as it opened up possibilities of what could work with my child. More importantly, it gave me the flip side of dyslexia. While so much of what I had found on my own was negative and highlighted the problems children may face, this book helped me to see the strengths that these students have. The most important game-changer with this book was rethinking our struggles. This book also has a wonderful appendix that has so many resources. All of the information I needed was put into one space. Not only has it resourced me to teach my child, but it has also helped me to understand her struggles, abilities and the way she thinks.
This book has helped me to be a better teacher for my daughter and a more effective parent as well.
Beth Ellen Nash has put wisdom and experience into this book. Reading it was like sitting down with someone who could gently remind me of different ways to look at what challenges we have and remember that a diagnosis is simply a starting place. I can’t recommend this book highly enough for all parents and teachers working with dyslexic children.
(For more help with your dyslexic child, visit True North Homeschool Academy’s struggling learner page.)
Rebecca Lundgren lives in South Dakota with her husband Jeremy, three daughters, and their zoo of adopted animals. While her family never intended to homeschool, she has learned a lot along the way. Her background includes a B.S. degree in Early Childhood Education and Special Education from South Dakota State University. Before she began her homeschool journey, she taught in Public Schools k-12, English as a Second Language (ESL) k-6, and directed an Early Childhood program. Since she began homeschooling, she has been involved with working in and then directing homeschooling groups in her area and now teaches ESL online. She loves camping and hiking with her family, reading, crafting, and children’s ministries. Rebecca will be teaching Jr High Science, World Geography and Logic.
When our kids struggle with math, it is often difficult to find a good “fit” to teach skills. Older students who struggle with lower math don’t want something that looks “baby-ish” or has a lower grade level plastered all over it! Here are some suggestions and ideas for helping your struggling learner with his struggles in math.
Finding the Right Curriculum
When you first start homeschooling, you soon realize that everyone’s homeschool looks different. There are so many curriculum options and homeschooling styles it can be overwhelming!! The biggest questions to ask yourself when looking at a curriculum:
- What kind of teacher are you? Do you like to have a script to follow? Do you like to be able to “change” things at times? How much support do you need to teach a subject (how strong are you in that subject)?
- What kind of learner is your child? Every child is different and learns differently. Some need visual, some need more auditory, some are hands-on. Some like colorful worksheets and some are distracted by cute pictures and poems on their worksheets.
When parents sign up for the classes and want a curriculum that will work with our program, I always recommend they look at Math U See. I have used Math U See with my own son, who has Autism. The simple layout of the worksheets and hands-on presentation of concepts through Decimal Street (place value) and the use of the colored blocks, makes math meaningful and visual for learners who struggle. It gives them an image to “see” in their mind when they are trying to find the answer. The introduction of place value addition and subtracting (adding and subtracting 10’s and 100’s) in Alpha has allowed my son to have a strong foundation continuing into Beta. A strong foundation at the beginning allows students to soar higher and faster later.
Why do we love Math U See?
First, there are the video explanations
The video presentation is great for showing parents the concepts behind what is being taught, and how to teach the lesson. Some older students have reported watching the DVD lesson with parents or by themselves to learn the material. I understand how this might work with some students and circumstances. My son needs me teaching him one on one for him to really grasp the concept. The wonderful thing about this curriculum is it is easily tailored to your child’s learning style.
Mastery vs. Spiral
I love the way this program teaches to mastery and is easy to modify for students based on need. I have divided up worksheets into parts to be completed at different times. I have used more or fewer of the lesson and review pages depending on how much practice my son needed for a lesson. Some parents and students do prefer a spiral method. Sometimes, though, a spiral method (where a concept is addressed again and again, each time adding more to it) can be confusing and frustrating for struggling learners, or children with memory issues who need repetition and daily practice to retain and increase skills.
Memorization vs. Strategy
I love the approach to addition and subtraction this program uses, with emphasis on how many it takes to get from 9 to 10 or 8 to 10 in order to help students have a strategy to solve problems, not just memorize facts. Many of the students who come to me struggle with memory problems, and the ability to use a STRATEGY, not just rely on memory enables them to be stronger in math.
Finally, Math U See is great for struggling writers.
Have a child who struggles with fine motor skills? My son does too. When we started our first year of homeschooling, my son could not even hold a pencil. He struggled with writing simple things like numbers and letters. Math U See allowed me to teach him math concepts without having to worry about a lot of writing. I could even write for him on days that writing numbers was too much. I was able to teach to his strengths while supporting his weakness. Because of this, he is thriving in math while we work to support the writing.
Should you use the blocks vs. digital app vs. no blocks?
It is important to have the blocks in the beginning. If cost is an issue, you may be able to buy a set used or even borrow a set for a while from someone. However, I don’t see how you could successfully implement this curriculum as it is intended without the blocks (or at least using something equivalent such as an abacus). The Digital App would work well for visual students or older students. It would allow the same visual concept with lower cost and take up less space.
I have found that when my son begins a new concept, he goes back to those blocks for a day or two until he learns the concepts, then is able to “see” the blocks in his head again to continue working through the concept as he continues through the lesson and test. He needs to be able to touch, manipulate, and otherwise experience the math through the blocks. While we will use an abacus at times (it is easier for travel), it is always the blocks we return to. Also, the blocks are used in the curriculum into Algebra, so they are a good investment if you are planning to stay with the curriculum long-term, and there are enough to use with more than one child at a time.
Whatever your decision, ultimately you have to find something that works for you and your child. For us, that was Math U See.
Do you need additional math help for your struggling learner? Find Live, online class with True North Homeschool Academy’s Struggling Learners Department!
Whether your child is struggling with addition and subtraction, multiplication and division, or fractions and decimals, we have a class for you! These interactive, hands-on games and activities help give students a strong foundation in math to help them whatever their post-high school goals are. Our positive, collaborative learning environment means the students feel supported, and comfortable enough to “try” even if they don’t know the answer for sure!
Amy holds a Masters of Science in Education, Specializing in Curriculum and Instruction, from the University of Central Missouri and a Bachelors of Science in Interdisciplinary Studies from Texas State University-San Marcos. Also, she spent 2 years of college studying Interpretation for the Deaf and Deaf Studies and knows American Sign Language. Her teaching certifications include Special Education, English as a Second Language and Generalist (early childhood through fourth). She is now part of the Struggling Learners Department of True North Homeschool Academy and loves the discovery approach to learning.