Getting Ready to Homeschool a Child with Special Needs (without a Teaching Degree): Tips for First-Year Homeschoolers

Getting Ready to Homeschool a Child with Special Needs without a Teaching DegreeFor whatever reason, you’ve decided that you’re going to homeschool. You are both excited and nervous, but you know this is the best option for your child at this time. Yet, you’re feeling a little overwhelmed. You’re not a teacher by profession. You never worked in a daycare. You never even attended summer camp to know enough about working with children — much less about teaching a child with special needs.

Where do you start? What do you need? Who should you contact?

This article will show you that you don’t need a degree in education to know how to be your child’s teacher, even if he has special needs.

How to get started homeschooling a child with special needs:

1- Paperwork. You will need to gather all of the most recent reports on your child. The best piece is the evaluation drawn up by a psychologist. If you have a service plan or an IEP in place from your child’s rehabilitation center or from your child’s previous school, then have these handy as well. From these reports, you can devise educational goals for your child.

2- Supplies. If your child has physical limitations, he may require adapted school supplies that you won’t easily find at your local office supply store. Look online for shops that sell equipment for children with special needs. They often have a section of the catalog dedicated to materials to help develop fine motor skills. Some items, however, you will be able to find at any supply store. You just need to be creative about how you use them.

Some supplies you should have on your list:

  • adapted scissors and cutters (ex.: left-handed scissors, stable tabletop scissors, scrapbook punches, scrapbook circle cutters, etc.)
  • a variety of glue bottles or glue sticks (ex.: twist top glue bottles, all-purpose glue with a fine tip, two-sided tape, colored stick glue, etc.) You can find examples of cut and paste supplies here.
  • a variety of drawing tools (magnetic drawing board and corresponding pen, chalk, rectangular-shaped crayons, markers, etc.) Find details about drawing tools here.
  • a variety of painting tools (recycled items such as egg cartons, but also scrapers, paint brushes of various widths, a painting board, etc.) Find more painting tips here.
  • flannel board and flannel pieces
  • playdough or clay
  • technology (especially if your child uses AAC or a tablet for communication)
  • a large-buttoned calculator
  • Velcro (dots and strips – you will use these often!)
  • laminating machine (a super investment!)

3- Furniture or Equipment. Your child with special needs may require special seating or worktops to be comfortable enough to work on activities. When looking for furniture, keep in mind where you will place it in your home but also where you can sit or stand so that you, too, can comfortably work with your child. If you plan to work across from your child at a desk for instance, avoid a desk with a backboard. Find more about adapted furniture and equipment here.

4- Space. Where will you homeschool your child? In the living room? In the dining room? Anywhere around the house? It’s important to think about spaces in your home that will work best for your child. If your child is highly distracted, avoid a place where the rest of the family might be listening to music or watching television. Also, think about noises such as electrical buzzing from your nearby computer or the refrigerator in the kitchen. Sometimes, slight noises and bright lights can be a huge distraction for a child with sensory sensitivities.

5- People. Will your child continue with therapy throughout the year? Do you need additional professionals to help you with homeschooling your child?

Some professionals to think about hiring/ consulting are:

  • a music therapist or a music teacher if your child wants to take on an instrument
  • art therapist or art teacher
  • dance/ movement teacher
  • drama specialist (can also teach puppetry and storytelling)
  • photographer, woodworker, craftsman (any specialist with skills your child shows an interest in learning)
  • an OT (at your local rehabilitation center)
  • a PT (also at your local rehab center)
  • speech and language pathologist
  • and ASL specialist
  • a tutor (for a subject you are unsure about teaching)
  • an educational consultant (to help you plan an individualized educational program for your child)

You don’t have to spend a lot of money on specialists. Sometimes, your local homeschool co-op will be able to offer music or art lessons in a group setting. Also, there are college students often looking to volunteer. Check your local post-secondary schools for ideas.

6- Additional Resources. Homeschooling was not meant to be done in isolation, even if your child has special needs that require special attention. Do a little research in your area, but call ahead to be sure that their facility is adapted if your child uses special equipment (this includes having a proper place to change your child, should the need arise).

Look for activities happening in your community in places such as:

  • your local YMCA
  • your homeschool co-op
  • community youth or sports center
  • local library
  • the rehabilitation center your child attends
  • a nature center
  • learning center
  • local farm

The first year of homeschooling may be daunting at first, but know that you don’t have to have it all figured out in August. Take it one day at a time and you will see your confidence grow as you get to know your child in this academic relationship.

Have a success school year!

What questions/ concerns might you have regarding homeschooling a child with special needs? What is causing you some hesitation in getting started?

Taking This Show on the Road

CHMShow Have you ever traveled with seven kids, two dogs, and a spouse who dares to set up a conference call during a 10-hour trip? Believe me, it’s just as much fun as it sounds.

On one such adventure, Brown Sugar had to go potty so Songbird took her to the rest area bathroom. Next we stopped at McDonald’s because the Lone Ranger didn’t like the nuggets from Chik-Fil-A. Then Eddie had to buy ice for the cooler where he took another twenty minutes to gather the other seven things I’d forgotten. As the Crusader crawled over the back seat to get an apple for Maven and Doritos for Think Tank, he disturbed the poodles in their crate, and their whimpering roused a dozing M&M. I nursed him back to sleep for the second time when we stopped for gas; we decided it was cheaper to refuel near home. That’s right: almost two hours into the trip, we’d crept a mere five miles away from our own driveway.

Sound familiar?

I dread packing for a trip more than I hate eating okra. To feel productive without actually doing anything, I create mental lists before our departure: Bring both types of soap. Leave the portable baby bed, but grab a crib sheet and blanket. Pack lightweight pajamas for the first, warmer location and robes for the second, cooler one. Take paper, crayons, and board games to fend off boredom and a television overdose at the grandparents’.

The lists go on and on, but the actual packing doesn’t get started until the night before. That’s when the pedal hits the metal. Then I’m arranging seven piles of clothes—at least three additional days of underwear; bathing suits or sweaters, depending on the season; matching outfits for the girls, caps and sneakers for the boys; extra diapers for the little one, more jeans for the big ones. It’s a “no” to the stuffed animals, a nod to the graphic novels, and a “maybe” to the craft supplies. More than likely, they’ll stash these gems under the seats beside the textbooks that never make it out of the car. I trip over Eddie’s suitcase that’s ready to go and mutter, “Who knows?” when Eddie asks when he can load the car.

Actually, getting our show on the road is more a Ringling Brothers than a Cirque de Soleil production. There’s a method to our madness, but it’s still maddening. Departure day is all about minimizing how late we’ll leave and of course, how much later we’ll arrive. Cranky and tired, we’re going in every direction but the one that leads to the car: grabbing toothbrushes I couldn’t pack the night before; stopping the newspaper and the mail; turning on extra lights. The dogs get underfoot so we don’t forget them and the baby wails so we can hear him. It’s all carefully unorchestrated, as painfully necessary as a measles shot.

By the time we finally throw ourselves into the car we’re too tired to drive around the corner, let alone hundreds of miles. We finally make it out of the state, but a few hours, three Wee Sing CDs, and two movies later, we’re still on the road. By our journey’s end Brown Sugar has nosed me out for best traveler. All Eddie and I want to do is push the kids into our host’s waiting arms and head to the nearest hotel to regroup for a day or two.

So, why do we do it?

For scientific study. Why mimic ocean movement in plastic bottles when we can experience the waves breaking on the rocks below Pemaquid Lighthouse? We’d rather paddle to lobster traps than just read about lake ecosystems. Checking out the bird’s nest Grandpa found in the blueberry bush trumps studying animal habitats in the safety of the schoolroom. What’s more entertaining: watching mama run from spiders or climbing giant bugs in Nashville’s botanical garden? (Okay, that’s a draw.)

CHMMaine

For art appreciation. I can hum “You Are My Sunshine” for twenty-five miles to hear my mom sing spirituals to M&M. The Lone Ranger’s colored-pencil renditions of New York’s skyscrapers, Blue Ridge mountains, and Pisgah National Forest cascades are works of art. Maven wears out her pencils, retelling her siblings’ escapades in her journal. Our a cappella remix of the “ABC Song,” “Bah, Bah, Black Sheep,” “Twinkle, Twinkle Traffic Light,” and “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” lulls M&M to sleep as we cross yet another county line.

For math application. Ever compare the drive from New Jersey to Maryland with the time spent crawling through Virginia alone? What about calculating the hours spent in line for a 90-second rollercoaster ride? Teaching the Crusader about gas mileage has more life application than doing inverse functions.

For Bible study. When someone screeches, “He touched me!” she’s not talking about Jesus. But that only inspires me to focus on God’s creation whizzing by the car, and meditate on His Word:

“O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens…When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” (Psalm 8:1, 3-4)

Since God can “draw out Leviathan with a hook, or snare his tongue with a line…” surely He can reel in the two battling it out behind me. (Job 41:1).

The family road trip…what better way to study God’s Word, geography, psychology, and sociology than watching my little people trample, chew on, argue with, explore, and evaluate everything from the tiniest ant at the rest stop to the hapless diner “lucky enough” to sit beside us at Cracker Barrel? Every fight, traffic jam, sore back, and pit stop draws us closer together; getting to the lighthouse, grandma’s house, the beach house, and our own house is the icing on the upside down cake. Have car, Google Maps, and Bible – will travel.

Now, if I just didn’t have to pack…

 

 

Writing Through the Summer Months: Tips for Reluctant Writers

Writing Through the Summer Months_Tips for Reluctant WritersIt’s difficult enough to get children to want to write throughout the school year. But, with summer at our door, it’s harder than ever to motivate them to pick up a pen, much less do some creative writing. In this article, I show you why creative writing should be tossed to the side so that you can make way for authentic writing activities your reluctant writer will beg for.

Reluctant writers need to understand why writing is important before they can be given the task of writing. If we continuously require them to write a narrative based on imaginative creatures, we risk losing their interest.

The best way to understand this is to ask yourself: How often do I sit and write stories about unicorns and castles? Not only is it rare, it’s also difficult to do.

Children learn to write if:

  • the writing is meaningful to them
  • they have a real audience for their writing
  • they see adults engaging in writing for authentic purposes

Requiring your child to invent a story is actually more difficult than you may think – even if his imagination runs wild on a regular basis. This is because you are asking your child to draw on experiences he has never had.

Forms of writing to motivate a reluctant writer:

Unless your child thrives on creative/ narrative writing, begin with written language tasks that offer a more meaningful purpose.

  • Retells or recounts: Have your child write about pertinent events in his life. During the summer months, he may keep a journal and jot down significant things he will want to remember for next summer. He can keep a science notebook of all of the things he discovers outdoors along with some sketches. Perhaps, he can write all about his summer camp experience. Have him write a letter to a distant family member about the strange bugs he discovered this summer.
  • Explanation: Have your child explain how things work or why things happen a certain way. Different from a recount, your child can answer some of his own questions. For instance: Why does it thunder? How did this plant go from seed to flower? Encourage your child to write the explanation for a real audience member, like his younger sister who may be afraid of thunder.
  • Opinion/ Exposition: Family discussions often bring about different opinions about a topic. If your family is debating about the number of hours technology should be used in your home, have your child write a persuasive text for his parents. (The whole family can get on this one!)
  • Procedure: Cooking, crafting and creating are breeding ground for writing opportunities. Encourage your child to write the steps to building his wooden birdhouse (after he builds it). If you’re going on a road trip, have him write the directions for getting from point A to point B for his parents to follow (be sure to double-check it before you leave!) Have him email his aunt the recipe for the best nut butter and jelly sandwich on the planet.

Integrate writing activities into daily life:

Don’t “give” writing assignments to your child. Instead, see what his day is like, the questions he raises, the activities you engage in as a family, etc. and pluck out writing opportunities from those events. If you listen with the intent of finding an opening for writing, the task will be more naturally integrated into your child’s day. He will be more inclined to write as a result.

Things to say to motivate a reluctant writer:

“Oh! Look, James, this is the second red bird we see today! What’s the difference between this one and the one we saw this morning? Let’s sketch them so that we don’t forget and we can look them up later to learn their names.” (Bam! You’ve helped him start a science journal.)

“Your father and I know that you both want new bicycles this year. If you write down the reasons why you think this would be a good idea, we will consider it.” (Persuasive essay)

“Grandma still can’t figure out how to work the iPad. Can you write her some directions so that she’ll know how to use Facetime with us?” (Procedural writing)

Materials to keep your child motivated to write:

Even though the school year is over, having brand new tools makes the writing task exciting for your child. Consider purchasing these inexpensive items:

  • fancy patterned notebooks of different sizes (take your child with you to have him make the choices on his own)
  • colored pens
  • pencils and erasers
  • a case to hold these items

No matter the writing form or the materials your child uses, keep in mind the three rules I listed above: keep the writing meaningful, give your child a real audience, and let him see you writing for authentic purposes too. Invest in a notebook yourself and write alongside your reluctant writer!

The goal is to encourage your child to write about events that are significant to his daily experiences – either for his own private purpose (journal/ diary) or for an audience (like his grandparents). Keep in mind that it’s easier for him to retell facts than it is to create a story about a character he never met.

Before the summer ends, you will find that your child will be writing more and even asking you for a new notebook!

Happy writing!

How I juggle being a WAHM: Working from home while homeschooling

working from home while homeschooling

As homeschool moms, “juggle” is our middle name- and that’s why I’m glad to participate in the iHomeschool network’s series on How Homeschool Moms Juggle. My juggle currently happens to be working from home while homeschooling.

As of 2014 I have decided to resurrect and reinvent my business coaching business for WAHMS which I had originally begun in 2004 but had abandoned because I began homeschooling in 2007 and had just had a baby.  Today my “baby” is 6 and my oldest who was in kindergarten in 2007 is now in the 6th grade.  Now I feel I’m in a season where working this business from home again could actually work.

However, homeschooling full time while working from home is no easy feat- as I’ve come to find out over the past few months.  I often like to write about my experiences with this new juggle of mine in hopes that I’ll help other WAHMS out there with similar circumstances.  I’ve found that just a few simple goals have made my juggle to keep up with both lifestyles an easier blend into one.

Evaluate my homeschooling.

One of the first things I absolutely had to do was to decide how I would homeschool (meaning: figure out my method, our curricula, our family goals- and see if this season of our lives means we change our homeschool goals and routines). In a previous post I talked about some of the steps I took in changing up our homeschooling this year so that I could work from home more easily.

For the beginning of 2014, I ultimately decided that although we would continue with our chosen curriculum (Sonlight), we would tweak our schedule and I would allow my 6th grader to become more independent with studies.  I also evaluated the curricula I’m using for my 6-year-old to ensure that she’s still learning at a convenient pace.

I figured once I got my homeschooling routine schedule down pat I’d be better able to create my work-from-home schedule.

Determine work hours

My next step in figuring out this whole homeschooling-while-working-from-home juggle was to figure out when I would work (and HOW!)  To be honest, this was the hardest part of the entire planning process.  I’ve been homeschooling for years, but I haven’t always worked from home while homeschooling, so it posed quite a challenge for me.

The first thing I decided that seemed to make the most sense was to determine about how many hours my 6th grader would need to devote to school each day.  On average, she spends about 4 hours per day in school while my youngest spends about 2 hours.  I typically do a lot of hands-on work with my youngest while my oldest, with the exception of a few read-alouds and book discussions with me, mostly works independently.  Minus the 2 hours I spend face to face with my youngest plus about an hour in the morning of home management, the remaining hours that my oldest daughter works independently leaves me some wiggle room for office hours.

Typically I have the second half of the day (after noon) free to work on business.  I schedule a few interviews during my “down times” in the morning when I’m done working with my youngest and my oldest has some independent work, but I do the bulk of my podcast editing, blogging, and coaching in the afternoons. (And of course, this all depends on whether it’s an extracurricular activity or library day- which I do attempt to allow to happen no more than twice a week so I stay sane!)

Remain flexible

In between all of this scheduling, the most important part of it all is to live life to the fullest by remaining flexible.  The kids are going to want impromptu fun, walks to the park, bike rides, an unplanned outing over to a friend’s house- and my main job in this season of my life is to be mama, more so than business coach.  I do try to create streamlined routines for my family that on a typical basis happen more or less the same each week, but that doesn’t mean we can’t deviate from our routine once in a while.  Part of what makes life so exciting is that we can be flexible.

How about you? Are you working from home while homeschooling?  What does your routine look like?  How do you  juggle being a WAHM while homeschooling?

I’d love to hear from you.  Meanwhile, hop on over to see how other iHomeschool network moms juggle the different aspects of their lives.

MomsJuggle

Helping Struggling Spellers (+ Giveaway)

Helping Struggling SpellersWhile it is only one aspect of writing, one of the most common challenges children run into with writing is spelling. When encountering words children cannot spell, they do one of several things: ask for help, look it up, try it out or shutdown. The child who shuts down is likely the child who struggles with spelling even seemingly simple words.

The tips in this post will help you help your struggling speller.

Children learn to spell through:

  • reading
  • writing
  • phonics
  • visual memory
  • direct teaching of spelling rules
  • vocabulary study in context

6 areas that stump spellers:

  1. lack of phonemic awareness (sound-symbol relationship)
  2. not enough exposure to letter patterns (ex: /ough/ or /augh/)
  3. little to no knowledge of word origins
  4. small repertoire of vocabulary words
  5. lack of explicitly taught spelling strategies
  6. fear of taking risks

How to help a struggling speller:

Contrary to what you might have learned as a student yourself, spelling is not learned by memorizing lists of words. Instead, children learn various strategies and apply them to their writing.

Here are some tips to helping your struggling spellers:

  1. Read and write. Since spelling goes hand-in-hand with reading and writing, both of these need to be fostered daily. It’s simple: read daily, write daily.
  2. Model. As with everything else you do, model the spelling strategies you use as you write, for instance, a grocery list, by thinking aloud. Children need to see adults writing and spelling for authentic purposes. They need to understand the importance of correct spelling. They also need to see adults making errors and then using strategies to help them spell words correctly.
  3. Keep it inclusive. Don’t make spelling a separate subject of the homeschool day. Spelling can be explored all day long in all activities and subjects. Point out words as you read recipes, on your drive to grandma’s, at the grocery store, during a science experiment, etc. As your child attempts to write throughout the day, keep track of words he has difficulty with in a little notebook.
  4. Focus on meaningful spelling. After you have a list of words your child regularly struggles with (you have them written in a notebook, as outlined in #3), use those words as spelling lists for your child. The most motivating way for struggling learners to tackle spelling is to spell words that mean something to them. Yes, words like “Superman” or “Nickelodeon” are perfectly accepted, if this is what your child wants to learn to spell.
  5. Teach spelling strategies. Children need to learn and practice strategies for effective spelling. Some strategies include learning mnemonics (memory tricks and rules), using visual memory, looking in a reference book, using spell-check, and even asking an adult.
  6. Encourage risk-taking. Reluctant or struggling spellers often withdraw from taking risks with spelling for fear of making an error. By doing all of the above, you are empowering and motivating your child to take risks with spelling. Be gentle and understanding. You will see strides in no time.
  7. Learn from the spelling errors. Hold yourself back from correcting the spelling errors right off the bat. Instead, analyze the errors your child makes. Is the issue phonic? Are the errors related to a lack of meaning of the words? Does he make reversals? Over time, you will see a pattern that can help you understand exactly what your child is struggling with which will help guide your lessons.

Giveaway: If you’d like specialized help with the concept of spelling for your child, I am giving away one FREE Spelling Planning Session to readers of Christian Homeschool Moms. I can help you identify your child’s spelling struggles and then give you strategies to help him overcome them.

All you need to do is answer this question in the comments below: What does your child struggle with most in spelling?

What to expect from the session:

  • a pre-session welcome package/ questionnaire will be sent to you requiring you to send it back to me at least 48 hours before our session
  • two 30-minute consultations (via Skype)
  • follow-up report sent to you within 8 days with customized details that recaps our discussion and offers additional resources, references, ideas, tips and tricks (and so that you can keep the notes from our session)

The comments will close on Tuesday, April 29th, 2014 at 8:00 a.m. EST. A winner will be selected by random generator and will be posted by noon the same day.  

The first person to comment will be given the free spelling planning session! (Updated April 29, 2014 at 5:20p.m)

The offer is open to all elementary homeschoolers (with or without children with special needs).