Top Ten Things to Remember When You Home School Your Special Needs Child
- Our home school journey started in California in 2004 and finished with graduation through a charter school based in Maryland.
Homeschooling is no doubt a big and daunting commitment, especially if you have a child with special needs. But it can also be a beautiful journey and a fun experience with some helpful hints to start with.
Our home school journey started in California in 2004 and finished with graduation through a charter school based in Maryland.
Ok. So, your family has made a major decision to home-school your child. Take a deep breath. You are about to enter a wonderful world full of knowledge and adventure. It’ll be shaky at first, but you’ll be stronger a year down the road. Most of us have definitely been unconsciously “teaching” our children early on, whether helping with homework or other functional skills. Treat this as another step in formalizing that process. Here are the top ten things to remember when you home school your Special child:
1. Prioritize your child’s educational goals – All the basic “R”s of Reading, Writing and Arithmetic have to be in but try to rearrange your goals keeping in mind your child’s areas of strengths and weaknesses. Cover all the basics, but focus one at a time. The intensity of learning usually pays off. In terms of setting goals, get the regular public school or state standards and use them as your base, but don’t get overwhelmed about it. Balance is the key. You want to set that higher bar for your child and at the same time, learn to fine-tune it to a workable model.
2. Structure at first but “loosen” up later – In the beginning, everybody starts by copying the public school structure at home, too. It’s quite natural and both the child and you need it for regularity and to get a sense of accomplishment. But, work towards a flexible routine later, but only when you and your child are ready to do so. You don’t have to completely “unschool,” but relax enough not to make education another chore in the day.
3. Destress yourself and your child at the same time – Homeschooling can be really hard when you don’t understand and monitor your own body’s stress levels. Be conscious of your tension triggers and try to avoid them at all costs. If you don’t feel good, take the day off or make the school work lighter. We’re all entitled to bad days. Also, remember that you’re playing a dual role of parent and a teacher. It’s easy to get carried away and hard to take out the emotions when you’re teaching your own child, but it’s useful to remember that these are exactly the same emotions that helped you to home school in the first place.
4. Socialization — This could be a big challenge, especially if you have children who have a harder time playing with other kids. Try to enroll your child in community programs, check with the charter school for classes, or arrange play dates for the child. Charter schools also have tie-ups with the school district for home school children to participate in classes, field trips, buddy programs, etc. Seek information or create opportunities around you. I am not saying it’s easy, but the hype around this issue is a little too much.
5. Be proud about your decision to home school – You’ll be constantly asked by people, more out of curiosity about your decision to home school your child. One simple explanation that could be used is that public classrooms are too crowded and noisy and your child needs a one-on-one learning environment. And, no, special ed didn’t work out for you. The more people you try to say it aloud, the better you’ll feel about yourself, especially in the initial stages. Also, keep your options open. You don’t have to be “up at arms” with the public schools. It didn’t work for you currently. Tomorrow if you think your child would benefit from a mainstream classroom, don’t hesitate to go back.
6. Open your curiosity of the mind to learn new things – You have to get ready to be a student first. Only then, can you learn along with your child. Teaching your child is important, but if you’re not excited about what you’re going to impart, chances are your child will be less enthusiastic to hear about it. The only downside to this is if there is a subject you’re not quite thrilled about, it’s very hard to show passion when teaching it to your child 🙂 In that case, feel free to enlist the help of your spouse, or a friend or hire a tutor.
7. Bond and trust — It’s important that there needs to be a bond or mutual trust between you and your child. It may be a “no-brainer” but something that could be easily overlooked after a while. Whenever you feel things are not progressing as per plan, re-examine and see if your teaching style is overwhelming for the child and he/she is stressed out. Repair things and then proceed. If things take a day or two to cool down, that’s fine. Remember that homeschooling is a lifestyle and doesn’t end with textbooks alone.
8. Seek information — Talking to other homeschooling or public school moms helps a lot. It doesn’t have to be about special needs. It could be a neighbor whose child is attending a public school. Check their school or homework to get some ideas. If you’re registered with charter schools, they have good resources that can guide you by providing curriculum, supplemental materials, or teaching tips. Libraries, online book stores, auction sites, online teaching resources, and educational software could be valuable tools for purchasing materials.
9. Measurement tips — Have a baseline of your where your child is in terms of education, extra-curricular activities, emotional regulation, socialization, etc. Assess every 6 months to see what your report card looks like. Make changes as necessary. If you’re registered with a charter school, the teacher and you will be doing a report card regularly, so you’ll be monitored. Also, have a short-term reward system. Any token economy or whatever is working for your child currently could be carried over to the home school situation.
10. Rely on your gut instinct and use them well – Lastly, when something is not working even if it has been proven to excel for others, discard it. Choose another. On the contrary, if you feel something’s worth giving a try, thumb your nose at the negative feedback and proceed. If it fails, it fails. But, if it works, you’ll go a notch higher.
Best wishes to you and your child/children.
(Top photo: Representational)
Jayashree Srikanth lived in the United States for 16 years, then moved to Bangalore with her husband and two daughters. She is a proud homeschooler of a special needs kid, who has a successful art career now and has won several awards including carrying the torch for the Rio Paralympics, in 2015. Her younger daughter is studying Neuroscience and Psychology at UCLA. Social work, writing, and traveling are her passionate hobbies.