The iPad’s beeping annoyingly, as a child pushes yet another incorrect button. A YouTube Video streams on my oldest child’s computer, and a couple of my youngest learners are playing with alphabet blocks.
Welcome to my homeschool! It’s nothing like I ever dreamed of.
As a former teacher, I used to envision a perfectly arranged home classroom complete with decorated bulletin boards, individual desks, and maps on the walls. In my dreams, my children gathered in the morning for a group story, and then moved quietly to individual instruction while I worked with each one throughout the day.
When my oldest son, Owen, was diagnosed with Angelman Syndrome, epilepsy, severe sleep disorder and Pica, my homeschool dreams changed. Quickly. Homeschooling a child with special needs is not usually something we dream about. It’s an unexpected life event.
I tried to pull it off. We’d be reading a book and Owen would try to rip the pages so he could eat them. His never ending doctor appointments took a lot of time away from schooling. I was constantly stressed.
It was time for a new plan.
Six Ways Homeschooling a Child with Special Needs Improved My Teaching
Here’s several specific ways I adapted my homeschool to be more inclusive. For all of my learners.
1. I Include More Videos
I used to think that watching videos for school was cheating. I preferred my kids to read books, and to research when they needed to learn more.
Then, I realized that Owen paid close attention to the TV when it was on after school. So I started doing a quick internet search for videos related to the science or social studies topics on the schedule. I found a ton—and all of the kids loved them!
In fact, they recalled information from the videos that they couldn’t after just reading. Involving multiple senses in learning really is a good thing!
2. I Integrate More Technology
Owen loves his iPad. In fact, we’re hoping that someday he’ll be able to use it to communicate. For now, he enjoys interacting with the technology. He’s gained some great fine motor skills.
I’ve started downloading more apps. I encourage my other kids to play on the iPad with Owen throughout the day—working on those learning apps together.
I keep my eyes peeled for technological ways to reinforce or introduce concepts. We use the computer, electronic toys, and more. Technology is a fun way to practice!
3. I’ve Gotten More Creative with My Literary Environment
I love teaching reading—I even earned my master’s in elementary reading and literacy. My classroom library came home, and I was so excited to arrange all my books in cute baskets around the home.
But, books and Owen don’t get along. He destroys them. So I’ve had to get creative in creating a literary environment for my children.
Now we have an alphabet train running along the top of the wall where he can’t reach it. We turn on the closed captioning on the TV and talk about the words we see.
I ask questions about characters and plot.
We read books on the iPad and Kindle.
We act out fairy tales and do a lot of oral story telling.
We still have books, but they’re almost exclusively kept upstairs—where Owen doesn’t go. I read a bedtime story upstairs to some of the kids, and they read to me.
It’s not what I dreamed of, but it’s working—my five and seven year old both learned to read in our new literary environment, and I’m confident my younger kids will as well.
4. My Instruction Is More Hands On
Owen loves to touch stuff. I’ve learned the importance of hands on instruction, and encourage my kids to dive into their learning.
We bring out the Mega Blocks to count and use for basic math.
The kids fill plastic measuring cups with water.
We get outside and learn about nature firsthand.
Why just read about something when you can actually learn about it? Hands-on instruction is so beneficial. To everyone.
5. We Sing More Songs
Music calms Owen. He sits still and listens, or rocks slowly to the rhythm. That means we sing a lot more than I ever thought we would.
I’ve found songs about presidents, the periodic table, and math facts. You can sing just about anything.
Even I’ve memorized so much since we started putting learning to music. It really is a great learning strategy!
6. I Value Individual Differences More
Perhaps most importantly, I’ve learned to truly value the different strengths that each of my children has. Kids are not cookie cutter stamps—they were created to be unique, and as such, they each prefer a variety of learning styles.
I apply differentiation to all of our lessons here at home. No two assignments ever look the same—my oldest might reflect on a concept through a computer game she codes, while someone else might write a story or put on a play.
I’ve learned to play on those individual differences, and teach through strengths while helping to bolster weaknesses.
It’s something that all classrooms could certainly use more of!
Having a child with special needs destroyed my plans of a “perfect” homeschool.
And I’m so thankful!
What’s best for Owen has ended up being an incredible learning opportunity for each of us. I will never win an award for the best-decorated homeschool room, or see my books in baskets all around the house—but we’re all learning!
And that’s what counts!
Homeschooling a child with special needs is a challenge. But so is homeschooling in general. It’s definitely not impossible, and it will make you a better teacher!
If you homeschool, how has your schooling changed since you started? If you don’t, what’s your favorite way to learn? Please share in the comments!