For 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?